Thursday, August 17, 2006


As Jeff is currently touring around Europe, I think it is appropriate to focus on this continent for a moment.

For some evil minded (mostly Europeans - of course), Europe is an aging continent clinging uselessly to its glorious past. Not as bold as America, not as quick as Asia, Europe has lost the race to future. For these people, Europe is a huge History Park - with splendid sights and historical monuments spread inconveniently over a too big area. And the quality of the services for tourists are burdened by the lack of common language and odd local customs.

For those of us who live near these gothic churches, grim graveyards and places with almost mythical sounding names like Hastings, Waterloo, Poltava or Marathon, these places are metro stops, train stations and location of the nearest Ikea is. Oddly enough, we are the first to forget what these places symbolise, what they still should mean to us.

The biggest problem for Europe is to define itself. Where does Europe end? Should Turkey or even Ukraine be included or not? The futile effort of European Union to draw up a unifying constitution failed for the lack of common nominators between the 25 countries. Our culture is too diversified, our visions for the future too contradictory to be shared. Just the mention of Christianity almost ignited a new religious war between Poland, Italy and the rest of continent.

The only common thing between all European countries is the history - the devastating wars and bloody conflicts which nobody wants to relive. Peace in Europe is just about the only thing we all can agree upon. For at least as long as we can remember the lessons of the past.

Looking around the world today, one can only wish that other parts would remember this too. That everybody else would be as fed up with useless fighting as us Europeans.

From the land of Linux and Nokia Kimmo Lehtonen is a Finnish SF active and a writer of speculative fiction. His third novel, LUEMINUT (README), is available on the web under Creative Commons license, but unfortunately only in Finnish.


At 6:52 AM, Blogger Joe said...

As someone who reads a lot of history I'd have to respectfully disagree that a history of warfare is all that connects different parts of Europe (although on a day when I am feeling depressed I'd be more tempted to agree as there was rather a lot of it).

What about a subject close to my heart, the Enlightenment? Living and working as I do as a bookseller in Edinburgh, one of the furnaces of that remarkable explosion in intellectual thought I think the science, literature and philosophy of that period not only affected most of Europe (and ineed America - many a Founding Father was influenced by Englightenment thought, especially from the Scottish schools) but continues to influence us today.

And that Enlightenment is borne on the back of increasing literacy and the moveable type print, the gift of Mr Gutenberg, which allowed thoughts and ideas to be spread across a continent, translated, reprinted, discussed, debated, added to. People in Edinburgh taverns discussing Voltaire while Parisian salons held people discussing the idea of Hume. I think perhaps the freedom of expression online today is a direct descendant of the Englightenment, printing (with the social and intellectual ramifications it caused) and perhaps a bit of Punk attitude thrown in for good measure.

I certainly don't take my history for granted either. I pass Edinburgh Castle every single day and always raise my head from my book to look at it, never take it for granted. I love the fact my work desk places me only yards from where Robert Louis Stevenson and Conan Doyle studied and drank. I love the fact that the pub I drink in has a wall constructed from a medieval city wall and is called The World's End because once upon a time it marked where the safety of the walled city ended and the wilds began. Or I can drink where the great 20th century Scots poets once met and argued and drank, sometimes with contemporary writers from the city. History is never past and over, it is a living part of each town, city and country. Oh, and you are right that sometimes those historical locations are also where the new Ikea store is :-)!!


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