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European construction has been and still remains a very complex project and process that has brought together a variety of nation-states to co-operate peacefully in order to avoid tragic wars such as those that plagued Europe between 1870 and 1945. Much has been written on the problem of potentially conflicting national and supra-national identities in the European Union (EU), but less so on the importance and impact that external ‘significant Others’ have (had) on the shaping of a common European identity. How has the political identity of Europe been influenced and potentially shaped by the presence of significant Others? What does a historical analysis of such external influences tell us about the nature of the European project and which lessons can we learn from such an analysis?

This project intends to shed light on the impact of two different significant Others at two crucial moments of European construction in a cross-historical perspective and in a multidisciplinary manner. The first external presence is the threat embodied by Eastern European communism during the immediate post-World War II period and in the first years of the European construction. The second is the current debate about the integration of Muslim majority Turkey into the EU and of the challenge that, according to many, Islamist ideologies represent to the political order of a democratic and secular Europe. To put it differently, the significant Other for the Europe construction might have been symbolized by the Sickle (of the communist flag) in the immediate post-WW2 period. Now it could be argued that the liminal threat is that of the Crescent (symbol of Islam).

This is a multidisciplinary research that would link together a historical research about the past of European construction/integration and current debates about the political identity of the EU. The common point that would bring these two aspects together is a compared historiography of what is/has been described as two liminal ‘threats’ to Europe (as a political project), namely that of communism during the post-World War II period and that of Islam in the last years. This is a topic of burning actuality for Europe which is still deeply divided over the inclusion of Turkey into the EU (as demonstrated in the last round of negotiations last October), and over the inclusion of reference to Christianity in the project of a European Constitution.

The research deals with a comparative analysis of the historiography dealing with the symbolic/imagined borders of Europe integration in a mid-term and compared perspective. The purpose is to assess to what extent the presence of two liminal political ‘others’ (Eastern European communism, and Islam) can influence (positively or negatively) the construction of a democratic order within the European Union. The research is therefore a crossed historiographical endeavour, but also focuses on how external actors can contribute towards the formation of a positive identity, by enhancing the level of democracy within the EU. Such line of questioning is very often overlooked in the literature dealing with European construction.

The purpose of this research is to re-visit European historiography through the lens of the international context that Europe faced at various moments of its existence, and in particular through the influence of two above mentioned threats. By doing so, I hope to re-evaluate to what extent the content of European integration and the emergence of a European identity owe to these possible threats.

In particular, the aim is to assess how these threats are/were relayed and used by European intellectuals, politicians and media, and relayed in history texts dealing with European construction and how those themes can be found in a later phase expressed throughout public opinion surveys. The research also aims at analysing a variety of visual sources (posters, textbooks images, political cartoons, films, etc.) about the use of these threats in a wider cultural ambit.
The historical comparison serves a double purpose. One the one hand it serves to test whether the significant Other can really influence the political identity of the European Communities and whether there are also some internal differences amongst the first six founding countries. Studying Eastern European communism does not serve to make a formal comparison with contemporary Islam, but to bring historical depth to the analysis of Europe’s imagined borders and to highlight the role of historiography and of the production of intellectuals’ discourses and of social sciences in general in the making of an identity for Europe. Indeed, it has been noted that European identity is mostly an elite concern and not really a concern of the public at large. A sub-question of this research is to assess how far external/liminal threats are instrumentalized by key actors and relayed by large media and to assess whether the lay people adhere to such views.



Last Updated ( Monday, 06 October 2008 )
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