Europe of Homelands

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2019-04-04

Recently, homeland has often been talked about in the context of the loss of home, uprooting. Thomas Mann, namesake of this Festival, called it "cardiac asthma of exile." During our festival’s week in this summer, we would like to invite you to talk about the existence of several homelands, about manifold meanings of this term, about many aspects, shades and shapes that homeland may bring to us. This is where some of our readers raise an eyebrow: can a person have more than one homeland? Yes, no doubt about it. Homeland may be a place you were born in, your home, but it may also mean something more, which does not have to be tied to a fixed location. "Home is a feeling," says British sociologist Avta Brah.Feeling and place can connect in many ways and so the notion of “holiday homeland” arises where certain forms of nature, such as landscapes and vegetation accompanied by special weather phenomena, play an important role. The Mann family, with their recurring desire to go to the seaside, have also nurtured the idea of "holiday homeland". The Curonian Spit is one of those numerous "holiday homelands" that have emerged on our continent; this example clearly shows that homeland is an inclusive, open concept. If we also used the idea of the philosopher Ernst Bloch, who was convinced that homeland was not determined by one’s historical roots, but rather by hopes for the future, then we would accept that it was a forward-looking notion. One can look for a homeland, seek to obtain it. This also includes a feeling that we call “spiritual homeland”. It implies shared cultural and political experience that help us to build bridges.

“Spiritual homeland” should not be tied to a fixed location, people can be gathered around an idea, publication or event like our festival. For many writers, spiritual homeland is represented by their writing desk. However, we should not overlook another important phenomenon which is now referred to as "fluid homeland", but it had been described long ago by the ancient Romans by the saying ‘ubi bene, ibi patria’.

Many of our homelands, which may overlap and intersect, are primarily anchored on our European continent, even though they are not tied to a specific location. This reminds us of the geographical definition Europe, which, especially its borders with Asia, have always been defined in an arbitrary manner. The French publicist Bernard-Henri Lévy believed that Europe is "not a place but an idea". This idea has many different interpretations that appear like borders which have to be crossed when travelling in Europe. Europe differs from all other continents because it has so many borders, and the history of Europe can be described as a history of borders and their shifts.

At the same time, these divisions help us to build our identities. People in Europe are made to think like their neighbours, to take their perspective. Besides, there is something else that should be said about the European continent - irrespective of the different cultural development across borders, these cultures are tightly interconnected because of intensive exchange of ideas and people. 

We may relate this to several ideas of Thomas Mann, who in his 1923 essay “European Destiny Community” spoke of the existence of a "spiritual community" in Europe and that he and his fellow writers and artists were the "intellectual creators of Europe”.

Therefore, the theme of this year's festival is some sort of provocation as we invite you to rethink, discuss and revise some important definitions. Besides, during this week of July we not only offer the guests and attendees a stimulating program but also invite everyone to enjoy this “holiday homeland”.

Prof. Dr. Ruth Leiserowitz