Europe: From Transnational Common wealth to Intercultural Dialogue Or “Working the Machine” of Democratic Institutions

Odile Popescu , An interview with Heinz-Uwe Haus

Haus

Today democracy is bound to the recognition of pluralism and difference. Theatre too cannot escape such a debate. It cannot avoid the question of its socio-economic basis and the political and economic analysis of the transformations created by globalization. Before we embark on this analysis, however, we must acknowledge the great diversity of interculturalism and of the related genres. (…)
There is no doubt, that the original meaning of democracy was the capacity of a public to accomplish things of value in the public realm. The essence lays in the “empowered people” not the “power of the people”. In fact the term “democracy” was used derogatorily, made up by Athenian democracy’s internal enemies to claim that popular rule was an arbitrary power wielded by the lower-class citizens. That, however, does not limit the political achievement of the ancient Greeks. What the enemies of Athenian democracy called “mob domination” was in fact the establishment of the rule of the law.

Popescu

The concept of intercultural dialogue is multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary by nature and affects many themes and issues in our European societies. The current decade has witnessed a growing enlargement of the European Union and an increasing diversity in era of opportunities and challenges. The EU represents more than ever an immense richness of cultural, social, and linguistic diversity. In such a context, the shared values that hold together our societies, such as freedom, fairness, democracy, human rights, rule of law, tolerance and solidarity, become crucial for Europe’s future. But the traditions of a transnational commonwealth (from the Holy Roman Empire to the vision of a United States of Europe) and the Christian-Judaeo identity are under scrutiny by side-effects of globalization, such as mass-immigration from non-European societies with an often medieval social and ethical value system. How can you use theatre in this clash of civilizations? What impact can Ancient Greek plays have?

Haus

I can only trust, that theatre, and especially the classics, lead into a discussion of the “use value” (Gebrauchswert) of the Athenian democracy as a system promoting the development of a solid agreement across diverse population strata on core values, while encouraging debate on particulars. Ancient Athens’ heritage offers several aspects of such governance: formal institutions, rhetoric and leadership, citizen identity, and civic order. They have been widely recognized as having value for modern assessments of how democracy works and why.

Popescu

The key terms were the universalisms of the past (empire, Christendom, humanist values), the communities which have shaped the cultural and political diversity of the present (religion, ethnicity), and the different definitions of citizenship which make state building such a complicated enterprise. So, part of our traditions is “integration”. But what we see today is a rejection of it.

Haus

The discussion has to focus on the emergence of forms of governance in a complex society and its context, best described as “republicanism”. It was the system of active citizenship rejecting the political monopoly of small and restrictive bodies of elites. But was it the result of an individual’s plan (Solon’s reforms 594 B.C.) or of the collective actions of a large and diverse body (reforms in the aftermath of the Spartan invasion 508 B.C.)? Did democracy arise before or only after Athens became a dominant imperial power? What about “regime change”?
Let us for moment exclude historical and political contexts. Just let us remember an important Western theatre’s identity determining aesthetic distinction. In Greek drama, an unalterable destiny foreordained the catastrophe and the defeat of the opposing human will. In modern drama, the focus is on the will and hence upon the free choice of the individual.

Popescu

This distinction was made also by Schiller, who considered the change essentially positive. I remember, that you insisted in a discussion after your FAUST 1 performance, that Goethe’s play marks the beginning of Western modern drama, especially due to Gretchen’s actions of self-liberation and free will.

Haus

Yes, that’s why today’s social theorists would agree, since in this comparison the classic mode represents society as unalterable, whereas the romantic shows it susceptible to change and reform. Goethe, however, and here he is as so often ahead of his time thanks to his dialectical way of thinking, finds the shift an unfortunate one: “The Sollen is despotic, whether it derives from the Reason, as do the laws of society or custom, or from nature, as do the laws of development, growth and departure, life and death. We tremble before all of these without considering that they aim for the good of the whole. The Wollen on the contrary is free and appears free and advantageous to the individual. Thus it flatters men and rules over them as soon as they become acquainted with it.”*

Haus

So, what to do as theatre maker with the given challenges of globalization? As a citizen, I believe, that the redefinition of citizenship as a plural (pluralist) concept is an essential part of the intercultural discourse, in view of opening new horizon and ways for the practice of participatory democracy at local, national, European, and international, from the city up to the European Union and to other international institutions. This is a road that provides opportunities to all to exercise the same citizenship rights in inclusive Europe. In this context new roles are offered to civil society organizations and movements and to local government institutions. As theatre maker it will always be the introduction of or the return to spiritual values of the traditional European forms of drama and the European cultural codes. That is the only way to coexist in and to be enriched by globalization. Globalization is not a fate; it is an active process of giving and taking. As spectators and performers become united by common principles and common spiritual values, the society as a whole can only develop through integration into and not rejection of a determined model of behavior sanctioned by European traditions (Athens, Jerusalem, and Rom; but also Leonardo da Vinci, Giordano Bruno, Luther, Voltaire, or Lech Walesa are the actual space for identity search). (…)

Popescu

I understand it is not about “worshipping Dionysus”; it is about accepting an opportunity.
I agree, the deep transformation can be largely explained by a change of cultural as well as national identities. But with the end of the two competing political and geographical blocks in 1989/90, with the dominating of global, supranational economy, the different nations, minorities and identities seem also to “reawaken”, they grasp that no central power can control them any longer. It seems to be an additional obstacle for a deeper integration even within the EU.

Haus

But at the same time, they lose their economic and symbolic power, since they now depend on a global economy. The slow, but inexorable disintegration of the nation-states (at least as far as real power is concerned) confirms the disappearance of isolated cultures, bound to nation-states and geared to large distance entities. From that moment on, the intercultural becomes the general rule; it is no longer controllable or manageable by nation-states and by intellectuals who claim (in vain) to represent them. In the same manner of the evolution for the world population and of the “migrations”, cultures and TV viewers are de-territorialized. Instead of distinct entities, we now have different “communities of sentiments”. They compete with the given codes.

Popescu

Confronted with this loss of identity, two opposing reactions are frequent: either a sudden tough line insisting on identity, a strained resistance, critical of any change, an attitude which seeks to re-establish at any cost the national identity; or, on the contrary, a postmodern casualness, an economic laissez-faire, an acceptance of the change of times, an ironical rejection of any resistance and any theoretical explanation, and finally an acceptance of the commodification of culture.

Haus

Yes, the fragmentation of audiences and genres cannot be ignored. It is mainly the result of failed policy (catchword: “multiculturalism”) and a privatization of the post-postmodern Self. That’s why the European heritage has such priority in the spiritual message of the theatre. Aeschylus, Moliere, Goethe, Ibsen, Toller, O’Casey, Brecht, or Tony Kushner speaks for the present and coming generations of an enlightened world.
But there is some more hope: Interculturalism – one tends to forget it – also functions the other way around: whenever a non-European culture uses European classics, it still maintains its own culture of stage traditions. So one should also open the debate to the way all these cultures/nations/theatres handle European or American authors and themes, with what presuppositions, intentions, and with what prejudices and prohibitions. Surprisingly, in Europe and everywhere else, Western intercultural theatre did not become a new genre which would federate all other genres, and, paradoxically, it transformed itself into a globalized theatre. (…)

Popescu

Coming back to political context. Thus the strategy for the Union is not only that of reinforcing existing initiatives related to the issues interlinked with multifaceted cultural diversity, but also developing new instruments and places for securing better the basic democratic principles of the EU. Why do we need to focus on the intercultural dialogue?

Haus

Why? The recognition of shared values such as freedom, democracy and tolerance, respect for diversity, etc. appears more and more important in the conduct of internal relations between various societies and communities within the EU context. Intercultural dialogue therefore becomes a necessary tool to avoid negative results of cultural pluralism the Europeans are encountering within and beyond the EU borders. (…)

Europe has been a transnational commonwealth for more than a thousand years. But the historical events of the 20th century (World War II, Cold War, Fall of the Wall) have forced the dynamics of survival into a process of unification. We all – politicians, artists, professionals, citizens and immigrants – need to explore the manner in which local, regional, national, and international loyalties and identities were established, which had either led to conflicts or to broader interdependence and integration.

Finally, to argue again with one basic essential of Western identity in theatre making: the Ancient Greek heritage. Whatever play I do – ORESTIA, MEDEA, THE PERSIANS, or THE CYKLOP – it is always eye-opening to discover, how Athenian drama was fundamentally involved in a critical enterprise – investigating and challenging core democratic values and behaviors. That’s why it is a model for today’s European society to observe the emergence of a self-conscious “critical community” of citizens – including dramatists, philosophers, historians, and rhetoricians – engaged in what amounted to a collaborative project to expose with their narratives of legal and political rhetoric a complex civic education, educating and training the audience (themselves!): the “working the machine” of democratic institutions. (…)

Notes
• Goethe, Werke, 26: 48-49
Newark, Delaware; February 2015

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