Longing for Europeanness and Fear of Integration: Lithuania and Europe in a Historical Perspective

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Rimvydas Petrauskas

Longing for Europeanness and Fear of Integration: Lithuania and Europe in a Historical Perspective

2018-09-15, Nida

A historical perspective is useful in discussing Lithuania in Europe, because history provides us with particular material and comparable situations. The Eurobarometersurveys indicate that the European identity is primarily understood via culture and history, and economic follows only after. Therefore let us begin with a historic introduction and some examples from the European and Lithuanian history.

 1.Historical Topography of Europe

The history of the distant past may be relevant if the historical processes and phenomena may be recognized in the present. In terms of political history, European history provides an example of a continuity lasting more than a thousand years. Around 800, Charles the Great created a united political organization in the Latin Europe for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire. In his empire, the contours of the 20th century political structure of Europe: the Coal and Steel Community established in 1951 - the nucleus of the future European Union (Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries) - emerged in exactly the same geographical space that Charles' state covered. Besides, in the Carolingian times, intense cultural and trade connections were established with England and Ireland, there was a lot of activity in Spain. Contacts with the Frankish Empire significantly encouraged ethnogenesis and the formation of the states of the Scandinavians and the Slavs as well as spread the idea of Christian monarchy and the Latin language. It is no coincidence that in the Slavic languages, and due to their influence, in Lithuanian as well, a monarch is called Charles - karaliusin Lithuanian, král in Czech, król in Polish, korol’ in Russian.

However, the becoming of Europe did not end in the Carolingian times. The problem of continuity and civilizational influence is particularly pertinent to the process of history. The 10-11th centuries were fateful to the development of North, Central and Eastern Europe. The baptism first of Czechia, and later of Poland, Denmark, Russia, and around the year 1000, of Sweden and Hungary meant the birth of a "new Europe". The old one, the Western Europe founded around one thousand years previously on the foundations of the Antiquity civilization, expanded to include new members ("put them in a toga," as the Romans used to say about the tribes they annexed). That was the time that the political map of Europe was essentially finalized - the old Carolingian Empire gave rise to new states (France, Germany, Italian lands, also England, Spain) and the Nordic, Central and Eastern European countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Hungary, Czechia, Poland) lined up next to them. The entry of these countries into the political system of the time was marked by the famous meeting of the Emperor Otto III and the Polish ruler Boleslov the Bold in the year 1000 in Gniezno. Against the etiquette standards of the time, the Emperor himself visited the leader of a new state and by this he demonstrated his resolve to respect the political sovereignty of all Christian countries. This emerging community of Christian kingdoms was expansive, but also open to new political entities. The Mindaugas kingdom - the last Christian kingdom of Europe - crowned this process of forming the Latin Western Europe.

After the Late Middle Ages, Christian Europe experienced virtually no changes in geography. The Roman, Bizantine and islamic civilizational boundaries more or less remained up until the 20th century (Greece and Bulgaria are notable exceptions). The historic cataclysms of the 19th and 20th centuries caused various changes, but eventually by the end of the 20th century everything was back in its "medieval" place. Therefore, it is possible to speak of a "new (young) Europe" twice: the birth of the new Europe in the 10-13th centuries besides the states of the Roman-Carolingian heritage and the unification of Europe and the expansion of the European Union to the east at the end of the 20th century. Such geopolitical stability is the foundation that evokes trust.

 II. Lithuania in Europe: Mobility and Translation

 Like all categories of such nature, the concept of "Europe" falls easy prey to semantic devaluation. It is very easy to say that the European Union is reminiscent of the Soviet Union, it is easy to use the presumed expansion of the European identity for scaremongering. However, there are certain phenomena that reveal in the centuries-long perspective that the Lithuanian identity is European, even though for a long time, people did not clearly understand such commonality. Let us take a relevant example of the demographic situation in the present-day Lithuania. Lithuanians have been an emigrant nation ever since the 15th century, when the peasants moved to the neighboring Prussia as part of the inside relocation process, and up to the 19th and 20th century travels to North and South America. However, this mobility by far is not an exceptional feature of the otherwise rather sedimentary peasant nation. Rather, it represents the common European relocation process, or as the famous British historian Robert Bartlett, "the birth of Europe from the spirit of colonization". Or another demographic problem: aging society. Of course, nowadays the demographic development has acquired new features. But the specific European "marriage culture", according to the German historian Wolfgang Reinhart, is a historical phenomenon that more or less coincides with the eastern border of the European Union: Europes have married and still do marry relatively late, they have less children, however, they also enjoy quite a lengthy youth, compared to other cultures - in other words, a time that could be devoted to travel, gathering experience, studying. By the way, this trend is also confirmed by the data about the marital behavior of the GDL nobility: in 15-16th centuries, the Lithuanian dukes and nobles marries late, often only after the death of their parents. Bearing in mind the life expectancy of the time, it is not surprising that in many cases grandchildren did not know their own grandparents. It is also a testimony to the durability of the social structures - the early death of the father did not prevent the son's career, both of the most famous GDL nobles of the early 16th century, Albertas Goštautas and Mikalojus Radvila the Black, lost their fathers before they turned ten.

Another example of how "European" the Grand Duchy of Lithuania  was is related to language. It is usual to regret that the Lithuanian language had no public status, that it never became a political language and instead gave way to Latin, Ruthenian and Polish. But there is another side to the linguistic tradition. Ever since the Early Middle Ages, Europeans have been masters of translation. One only need to remember the translations of the Bible and the Greek Antiquity texts, and along with them, the traditions, to Latin and later to popular languages. Also, the Christian missionary politics required a better knowledge of local languages and cultures. It was an important condition of the European expansion. The same may be said about the ancient Lithuanians, who not only easily adapted Latin and Ruthenian written languages, but were also themselves famous as masters of translation. For example, in the middle of the 15th century the Grand Master of the German order received a letter in Tatar, and had to go to the Lithuanian ruler's chancellery for translation: both texts, the original and the translation into German, are safely kept in the old archive of the Order in Berlin. In this case, Lithuanians were even "better Europeans", because they were capable of communicating in various linguistic as well as cultural traditions.

 III. European Identity in the Middle Ages?

 Obviously, without a historically grounded value system, European Union will continue to be understood and represented as an economic organization run by bureaucrats. However, the question if European identity is at all possible, and if so, if it will not repress the traditional forms of identity, is understandable. The studies of political identity of the pre-modern times help us understand that identity, as well as patriotism, historically is changeable, and that communities are first and foremost connected not so much by economic links, but by common values and imagery.

The contemporary integration of the European states is not a new phenomenon, rather, only the forms of integration have changes. The premise of the medieval "integration" was the changes that took place in Europe at the similar time: the centralization of the states and the becoming of the territorial monarchies, the social stabilization (the consolidation of the estates and the first instances of parliaments, the representative gatherings of the estates), the end of the inside colonization, the development of city self-governance and trade, changes in teaching and spirituality (the university and the scholastics, the friars, the new piety). What previously only connected a narrow cultural and partly political elites of the different countries of Europe (Latin as the language of the Church, culture and administration, inter-dynasty marriages) is now becoming a much more widespread social action. Contacts between the regions of Europe became more intense: the international travel routes of the nobility and the city folk strengthened the connections and created a sense of belonging to one world of nobility or city folk. This was manifest in the internationalization of ruler courts and city councils, marital connections, and the widespread common origin theories (from Rome, Troy or the troops of Alexander the Great). Travel was made easier by the emerging medieval system of "passports" (letters of guarantee or recommendation), and the exchange of ideas was encouraged by the intensified culture of manuscript copying (and later printing), the drop in their prices and the growing number of literate people. Due to the lateness of baptism, these processes happened in Lithuania a little later, but the legal principle of Magna Carta of 1215 that states "meninem captivabimus" [no one may be held in captivity without the order of the court] two centuries later, in 1434, is found in a privilege of the Lithuanian ruler. And such examples are plentiful.

The Latin term "patria", which came from the Roman times, became more and more prominent in the minds of the people of Europe in the Late Middle Ages. Sure, in this mind "homeland" ("patria") had to share room with the categories of loyalty to the ruler or belonging to a smaller community ("patrimony"). In the Lithuanian political writing, "homeland" in this sense first appears quite late: in 1429, in the middle of the argument about his coronation, Vytautas wrote a letter in German to the Grand Master of the German Order and emphasized his desire to accept the crown "in our land, in our home, in our homeland (heimat)". The understanding of "patria" in pre-modern times was quite different from the concept of Lithuanianness tham emerged in the 19th century. In the 16th century, the nobles of Ruthenian origin referred to themselves as Lithuanian in the political-citizenry sense, in spite of different language and faith.

In the Late Middle Ages, in the face of the expansion of another civilization (the end of the crusades, the Osman Turks) yet another sense of "patria" appeared, this time referring to the Christian Europe. At the turn of the 14th century, the French lawyer Pierre Dubois and the Italian poet Dante Alighieri projected peace and union among the Christian states. Enea Silvio Piccolomini (future Pope Pius II) in his work In Europam, written in mid-15th century, connects Europe with such terms as patria, domus propria, solum noster. Even in Lithuania, the last pagan country and the object of the crusades until recently, in 1848, the Samogitian elder Jonas Kęsgailaitis wrote to the Master of the German Order that he is prepared to take part in the march against the infidels, as "Christianity is greatly weakened and we cannot allow it to be weakened further". At the same time, the word Europaeusbecomes widespread in writing. Finally, Pierfrancesco Giambullari in 1599 in Venice published his work Historia dell'Europa, which symbolically begins with the imperial coronation of Charles the Great in 800 and which clearly delineates the cultural-political division between "civilized" Europe and its "barbaric" surroundings.

However, the idea of Europe as an empire, or Europe ruled by a single monarch, was alien to Europe of the Late Middle Ages and early Modernity. In the time of becoming of territorial states and the beginning of the "competition of the nations", Europe was imagined, rather, as an entity of monarchies (nations), as first visually represented in the mid-16th century by the German Johannes Putsch: "Europe as a Christian Republic", whose body consists of the sum of monarchies, including Lithuania.

IV. Lithuania in the European Union

 Bearing in mind the development of changing identity and historically recurring challenges, we can serenely gaze at the present situation of Lithuania in Europe. Lithuania is an independent state, and its citizens comprise a political nation. At the same time Lithuania belongs to a larger political community, the European Union. In this case, we can see a structural similarity to the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania or the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (but not the Soviet Union), when the political identity developed in several layers. It is important to note the rarely remembered decision in the document of the Union of Lublin. Poland and Lithuania were joined not in one state, but in one political "body", the Republic, which was understood to be a community of its citizens (of course, only noble ones) - a community of governance, rights, values. The Republic did not become a unitarian state, but created an inner unity of its residents.

In general, the Late Middle Ages - the times when such concepts as national monarchies, political separateness, state borders took shape - the opposite processes also intensified as attempts at creating larger political entities were made. Unitarian states were by far not an obvious form of governance in pre-modern Europe. "The historians of the individual nation states have typically viewed the unions with a lack of enthusiasm, as impediments to the development of the nation and the nation state" (Robert Frost). An unprejudiced look allows one to see that successful unions created and developed the grounds for "consensual monarchy", based on the agreement between the ruler and his subjects of different nations (sometimes even faiths). These principles allowed the members of the unions to retain the right and the possibility to decide their own political future.

Is that the direction that the European Union should take - "the Republic of many nations/states"? Is that the best way for Lithuania in terms of culture, wellbeing, security? And what can interfere with such a development of the EU? Fear, first of all - some are afraid of emigrants, others of climate change, yet others of war or of increasing spending for administration and reduced pensions. On their own, fears are neither good nor bad. They should not be ignored. Frankly, fears are part of what unites people and helps them move ahead. The first ideas about a common Europe were also born in the face of the danger of the Turks. By the way, that experience is relevant today - one only need to remember the erection of Jan Sobieski's monument in Vienna. It is natural that people get confused in the face of the ever-new modernity. In the 19th century, people found the renovated Paris or Berlin scary, and now we find their buildings rather pretty, as "scarier" ones keep emerging. Thus, we can not eliminate fears, anxieties and dissatisfaction with innovations, but each time a positive answer to such fears must be found.

One of the ways is to "humanize" politics, which now contains too strong a tendency to view the society in a "technological" fashion and, as a consequence, it is looking for solutions. Politics as the field of creating meanings - connections, values, justice, etc. And such meanings need to be spread, explained, discussed in the society.

If we keep imagining the European Union as the Brussels bureaucrats and the Europarlamentarians that commute between Brussels and Strasbourg, it will, of course, remain as if a distant structure that has little influence on the people's lives. Therefore the European politics need to be brought closer, by reminding of the achievements (which new and new generations of Europe are taking for granted) - ling-term peace, free movement of people and goods (but also ideas), guaranteed justice. With the liberalization of the mobile networks, there is also a breakthrough in communication - one of the well-considered bureaucratic decisions that not only effectively impacts everyday life, but will unavoidably affect the future of the EU. One might also remember the European health insurance card and other actions that serve as reminders that only practical action can move the identity. Every time we freely cross the border west or north, we make Europe particular, and this mobility melts the fear and mistrust. Of course, as we say goodbye to one set of borders, the other sets become even more prominent, wherever control and limitations appear, but precisely at former or present borders we understand the meaning of the cliche "Europe without borders".

But identity also requires theoretical summary. In the early 2000s, at the dawn of euro, the famous German historian Jörn Rüsen rhetorically asked in Vilnius: what will become the spiritual euro? If we want Europe to be something more than a geographic and economic entity, we need an idea of Europe, a European narrative. Of course, this narrative must begin with history, which like all "great narratives" would reveal its roots to the emerging community. At the same time, the narrative must place boundaries, show what is "not-Europe" or how Europe is different. The concept of Europe as exclusive, even chosen community is actually codified in its flag with 12 stars, a nod to the Judeo-Christian tradition of the number (12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles of Christ). Lithuania must join in to create such a narrative by telling about its own Europeanness.

The conditions for that are good. The surveys consistently indicate that the Lithuanians are unbelievably pro-European. Such enthusiasm is hardly maintained by the European subventions, I believe it more likely to be a strong longing for westernization, or maybe even the fact that such identity is traditionally stronger in border and conflicting regions (one might remember here the antemurale / clipeus christianitatisidea that was widespread in Poland and Lithuania, but also in Hungary since the 15th century). Maybe we could now imbue Poland with such love for Europe. It would be a certain "remuneration" for the medieval European way, which for Lithuania, went over Polans. If that does not work, we must also be prepared for the "two speed Europe" scenario: the Lithuanian state and society should prefer the company of France and Germany who declare openness, freedom, rational politics, because it is safer, more useful, and (most importantly), right, to that of the nationalistically closed, xenophobic governments yet again in search of a "third way" (however strong the "Jagellonian idea" is in terms of historic tradition). The historic experience here provides certainty: belonging to a wider community by itself does not threaten national identity, as combining identities is natural. Not the "expansion of the European identity", but forcing the banal sense of nationality on the new generation who understand the world and themselves in a different way is the real threat to the national identity. Identity is individual, a person eventually makes a choice to belong to certain communities, and hardly ever is this choice unitarian - family, extended family, corporation, region, state...

By learning about the past, history and historians should first of all teach the society to understand the present and not be afraid of the future. To welcome change calmly and create their own lives. But at the same time, to explain the directions of the political orientation ("why Europe") and the place of our country ("where in Europe") and thus aid in creating the identity. To transfer the experience that each important step was a choice, and that historical chances may be either taken of missed.

 V. The May 3rd Constitution as a Model for Europe?

 Europe needs a new impulse. Could we, from our historic experience, offer Europe a certain "May 3rd Constitution" that liberates and integrates its citizens without destroying sovereign polities? These sovereign polities, including Lithuania, must reveal their individual strengths, exceptional competences. And not just for the image (even though it is also important), but in reaction to the current political situation. Again, from the historic perspective, Lithuania could productively remember and develop the idea of openness. In this case the "letters of Gediminas" are a really suitable symbolic motif. Everyone knows that Gediminas invited "tradesmen and artisans", but fewer know that he committed to guaranteeing a just and free life for them. But openness, of course, is more than immigration. Openness may positively overturn the image of Lithuania as a problematic "border territory". Historically, the borderland is a place not only of danger, but also of economic and cultural chance. A place for Lithuania's leadership of ideas, where everything Europe-related may be translated to the Belorussians, the Ukrainians, the Russians and... the Polish.

The idea of Europe and European integration is living a new stage of its development - maybe even a "threshold situation". The direction of its expansion will depend on its political and cultural elite. It is very important for Lithuania to contribute its experience to this discussion. And we may even take the "advantage of being late" - as "late Europeans", Lithuanians may see better what the European project lacks; as living in a region of higher threat, they may offer more resolute solutions where there is hesitation.

Lithuania in Europe: 1) the model for Europe ("May 3rd") - a united political entity from the outside and inner diversity of the countries (cultures, languages, experiences) - "a Republic of many nations"; 2) the experience of translating and spreading ideas "at the border" - to the countries outside of the political boundaries of Europe; 3) the will of the "late Europeans" to create an adequate narrative of Europe and the critical discussion of the European project; 4) the possibilities opened by the new spatial "conquest" of Europe, the mobility of people and ideas' 5) the possibilities that could be opened by synchronized reforms in the European Union and in Lithuania.