Stian Bromark

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Stian Bromark er journalist, bokanmelder og forfatter.

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8. jan. 2005

Cultural revolution! Now!

Essay from 00TAL 17/18 (2005), publisert både på svensk og engelsk.

By Stian Bromark & Dag Herbjørnsrud.

– Europe´s youth in search of an identity for the 21st century
The rebel creates ambiguity. Power strives for clarity.

Author and dramatist Jon Fosse

Europe needs a cultural revolution. And in order to obtain this revolution, we want war. It is in fact our whole world-view at the beginning of the 21st century which is at stake.
It’s worth pointing out that it isn’t an ideological, violent or dogmatic cultural revolution we want. Rather, we are looking for a new intellectual world-order. The war we are fighting for is not a military one either. More an academic one. What we want, in fact, is a cultural war: ‘Culture Wars’ in Europe. Now.
May the best world-view win. And in this context: A world-view which encompasses the World Trade Center having been built as a homage to Islam. That the Iroquois founded modern American democracy. That Jewish intellectuals laid the foundations of modern Scandinavian literature. That the cowboys were black. That Kipling believed that east is west and west is east – and that both have met and will go on meeting eternally. In short: That the world is not as we have been taught to believe.

Europe of today
But let’s begin at the beginning: the Europe of today. As the younger generation of academics, artists, writers, media-people, freelancers, solidarity-conscious and committed individuals experience it. On the 1st of May this year the European Union was enlarged eastwards, so that the number of member-countries has increased from 15 to 25. But the question still remains: Who is it that we are shut-ting out when we allow others inside? We, Europeans in our twenties and thirties, find ourselves in 2004 in a quite different situation from the revolutionary generation of 1968, and our means of expression is different, but the actual socio-political challenges are no less on that account.

Sacred ideological conviction was reinforced after a strikingly large proportion of revolutionary intellectuals from the 1970s entered the totalitarian camp: The kowtowing of academics to the mass-murderers Mao, Lenin and Pol Pot characterised the nature of the debate for a whole generation. The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9th November 1989 is also a symbol of the death of ideologies. The Communist dream in the east disappeared. The lighthouse was extinguished for good. This set the tone for the 1990s: the decade of vacuum, confusion and seeking. We knew what we had to give up, but we didn’t know what we were looking for. Apart from that: A clue, a purpose, a goal.

The easiest way to find out what we stand for is to find out what we are against. And the break-up of ideologies meant that we had to look for new demons. The friend of one side is the enemy of the opposition. In terms of real-politik, the Communist Soviet Union was the enemy during the Cold War for those of us who grew up on the western side of the Iron Curtain which came to divide Europe after World War Two. The majority of western intellectuals during the last few decades have felt an attraction towards the Communist or Socialist utopia. But militarily and economically, Soviet eastern-bloc Communism be-longed to the antithesis of the social-liberal society of western Europe. And with the fall of Communism in Europe we needed not only a new dream, but also a new enemy.

The Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie on Valentine’s Day, 1989, provided a welcome excuse to point the finger at Islam as the enemy of ‘the West’ and Europe – this, despite the fact that 44 Muslim foreign ministers had already in March 1989 made a unanimous declaration that the dying Khomeini’s ‘death-sentence’ was self-evidently totally ‘un-Islamic’. The Gulf War in January 1991 was also exploited by European and American academics to show that Islam is anti-western – despite the fact that Saddam Hussein was the most self-declared secular head of state in the whole Middle East, that he had the Christian Tariq Aziz as his regime’s public face to the outside world, and despite the fact that he attacked the Muslim state of Kuwait, thereby inducing a whole series of Muslim countries to join in the war against him. None the less: As early as September 1991 the Orientalist Bernard Lewis launched the expression ‘clash of civilizations’, a concept which the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington made into the most debated political science term of re-cent years with the help of his article The Clash of Civilizations? in the journal Foreign Affairs in the summer of 1993, followed by a book three years later.

For young up-and-coming European intellectuals, however, Islamophobia has not been the most attractive topic of the 1990s. Even today, after September 11th 2001, there is something reactionary in such a demonisation of minorities in a modern society, something which conjures up uncomfortable associations with a totalitarian European past that we otherwise disassociate ourselves from.

No, the first comprehensive, politically-aware reawakening after the Sleeping Beauty slumber which came in with the fall of the Berlin Wall only occurred a decade later, at the end of the 1990s. It was the opposition to ‘globalisation’ – the economic paradigm shift which began with Margaret Thatcher’s entry into British politics on 3rd May 1979. Together with her ideological counterpart in the USA, Ronald Reagan, she brought about the great liberal-economic revolution of the 20th century which has subsequently become the reigning ideological vision among those in authority and politicians independent of support from the political right/left axis. The 1990s saw the chickens come home to roost: The bosses in the commercial sector became the victors, the politicians were over-qualified for membership of the losers’ fraternity. The IT nerd Bill Gates visited China’s president Jiang Zemin more often than Bill Clinton did. The TV mogul Ted Turner was asked to run for president of the USA, but preferred his office in the citadel of capitalism as it gave him more power. Edward Macmillan Scott, leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, gave the following answer when he was asked what he intended to do about Shell’s unfortunate activities in Nigeria: “I’ll stop filling up with Shell”. The politician has become like the rest of us. They may assume the role of concerned consumers because they want power. The key lies in their pockets, along with their money. If you can get big business to change, you will also change politics.

The new enemy
This less fortunate form of ‘globalisation’ became the new image of evil that the youth of the whole of Europe could unite against. The opposition came bit by bit – but a distinction appeared with Le Monde Diplomatique’s creation of the ‘Attac’-movement in 1998. Then in 2000 the Canadian writer Naomi Klein’s No logo was published. It became a bestseller, almost a bible for large sections of the new student cohort. At last some politically- aware young Europeans could again make common cause: An enemy one could define oneself against (global capital-ism’s exploitation of the so-called ‘developing countries’), in order to show what one is for (less exploitation).

And we went out into the streets in our thousands. First in Seattle in 1999. Then in Gothenburg in 2000. Genoa in 2001. Oslo, 2002. Hundreds of thousands in all. Traditional left-wingers were not by any means the only ones to become committed to the cause. In 2001 the British economist Noreena Hertz brought out The Silent Takeover. The book has many similarities with Naomi Klein’s No logo. Both examine the triumph of global capitalism, starting from the politicians’ voluntary abdication of responsibility and the people’s stance of dumb lookers-on. And both of them, in contrast to much other literature about anti-globalisation, take a positive and optimistic view of the popular opposition – not only of the willingness to demonstrate in Seattle, Genoa and Gothenburg, but also of the ensuing demonstrations against the consumer giants. And both of them, despite their heavyweight academic reputations, have chosen a more polemical and journalistic medium of communication. Their language is, not exactly simplified, but youthful (synonym for ‘fresh’, ‘cheeky’ or ‘don’t-give-a-damn’). In contrast to the old rebels of the 1968 generation – Noam Chomsky, for example – Hertz and Klein look like children of their time. Both of them are young, good-looking, worldly and feminine. Without turning the globalisation debate into a question of gender, it is nevertheless thought-provoking that today’s most successful critics of the system on the international book front are relatively young, worldly women (in Scandinavia, at any rate, hailed as today’s ‘winners’ when it comes to education, poise, power of definition): Noreena Hertz, Naomi Klein, Arundhati Roy. And over them, the mother-figure of Susan Sontag. And Barbara Ehrenreich, with Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. And what sort of model do the boys have? Well, he isn’t particularly good-looking, he isn’t particularly worldly and it doesn’t look as if he has had a shower since the 1990s: the American Michael Moore. And, well, we also have the academic figure of Noam Chomsky – Old Spice in person. In a word: Where are the Fab Five when we need them most?

But the discussion about globalisation, as long as it merely concentrates on economic and political conditions, is a debate which is doomed only to scrape the surface of the changes which the world, including Europe, is undergoing – and will be forced to continue undergoing in future. The ideological struggles of the 1990s showed us that the more economic and political globalisation we have – i.e. lack of government – the more confusion there will be about culture and identity. We can choose to solve the former, or the latter. There is a fair amount of evidence that the sensible course would be to concentrate on the latter.

The debate on immigration and the fall of the colonial powers
We like to think that Europe’s fear of foreigners is a new phenomenon, and that it is linked to the modern welfare system which was put under pressure from the 1970s on, culminating in the 1990s. The fact is, however, that the immigration debate in, for example, Great Brit-ain, started as early as the 1950s, when the colonial power was broken up. The British Empire spoke warmly of ‘a family of nations’ whose inhabitants could move around freely under the queen’s crown. This pact was strengthened by legislation as late as 1948. But as the 1950s went on, more and more British politicians began to worry about the growing numbers of Indians and Pakistanis who were streaming into Great Britain. In 1955 the secretary of state Lord Swinton issued a warning about the growing numbers of Indians from the working-class. In his opinion, if this stream of immigrants was not controlled, it would gradually become a ‘pest’. The government was unanimous. If immigration from the current and former colonies continued, it would lead to a “significant change in the race of the British people”. The Conservative party leader Lord Salisbury thought that the main cause of immigration was “self-evidently the welfare state”.

In 1968 the M.P. Enoch Powell, a former Conservative health minister, gave as his opinion that the country was undergoing a change the like of which it had not seen in the course of a thousand years’ history. In a notorious speech he painted a picture of the white working-class in the big cities “feeling themselves to be foreigners in their own country”. His advice was to stop immigration. Enoch was forcibly put right by his own party-leader, but thousands marched in demonstrations of sympathy under the heading: ‘Don’t Knock Enoch’. Despite the public reprimand, Enoch’s word became law. Several proposed new laws throughout the 1970s attempted to close the door to non-white immigrants. In 1981 Margaret Thatcher’s secretary declared, in connection with a new and restrictive legislative proposal, that it was time to kill stone-dead the idea that Great Britain was “a safe haven for all those from countries that we used to govern”. Since then, things have been tightened up even more. In 1997 only 19% of asylum-seekers were allowed to stay, and the British government is using very creative means to prevent even as many as that from slipping through the eye of the needle.

In the rest of Europe the picture is the same. Racially-motivated attacks are often under-reported, as few European countries collect information systematically. Yet figures from the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia show that in 1999 the Belgian police received 919 complaints about racially motivated attacks and assaults. This seems like a lot, but isn’t really in comparison to other countries. In Germany the figure was 10,037, 5.4% more than the previous year. In the same year, 47 Jewish cemeteries were vandalised. Other documentation is equally alarming. Greece has come under the international organisations’ spotlight because of its bad treatment of gypsies and Albanians. In July 1999 anti-Muslim agitation broke out in Spain under the heading ‘Muslims Out!’ In 1996 two-thirds of French people in a survey replied that there were “too many Arabs” in the country. France’s 500,000 Jews have also experienced increased antagonism. Between September 2000 and November 2001 there were 330 anti-semitic assaults in Paris alone. In the Netherlands, around 3,000 racially-motivated attacks have been reported annually since 1997. In 1999, 9 policemen in Austria were sacked for racially-motivated assaults. Also in 1999, in Sweden 2,363 racially-motivated breaches of the law were reported, of which 281 involved a physical assault. In 1997-8, a total of 13,878 racist episodes were reported in Great Britain, 21% of them involving physical attacks.

And the survey results are just as dire as the statistics about violence. Figures from 1997 show that 33% of inhabitants of EU countries characterise themselves as ‘fairly racist’ or ‘very racist’, 41% thought there were too many ethnic minorities and foreigners in their country. One out of ten were pleased with the job that the racist movements were doing. Similar surveys had been carried out in 1989 too, but Europeans at that time did not come out nearly so badly. In other words: it has got worse. A survey in the year 2000 showed that Europeans also believed that immigrants were reducing their quality of life. 52% of Europeans thought that the quality of their schools was being lowered because of too many immigrants, 52% thought that immigrants were exploiting the welfare system and 51% thought that immigrants were causing unemployment among the majority workforce. Seen in this light, it is not surprising that 39% of Europeans think that legally domiciled immigrants from so-called ‘non-western’ countries should be sent back to their homeland. The good news is that the majority in Europe are tolerant in their attitudes to ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. The bad news is that the number who are intolerant is high, and the figures are rising.

The second generation writers
Like other European countries, Great Britain has stringent policies on immigration, but this does not prevent – or perhaps it is the reason for? – the country fostering ultra-modern and successful novels like White Teeth (2000) by the Jamaican-English writer Zadie Smith and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003), which examines Bangladesh in England. Even in that part of Europe which has been reckoned to be most culturally homogeneous – Scandinavia – one finds young writers who are examining the borderlands of identity. In Sweden, the Swedish-Tunisian writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri won glowing reviews for his 2003 novel Ett öga rött (“One Eye Red”), in which – unusually – it is the young protagonist Halim who, paradoxically, defends Arab culture against his father, who glorifies Swedish culture. Tradition and modernity are turned on their head, but it is still generational differences which provide the theme. There are also examples in Norway of second generation immigrants who have made the new Europe the theme of their novels (e.g. Khalid Hussain’s Pakkis, 1986), but it is interesting that young, established authors who don’t have an immigrant background, like Torgrim Eggen in Hilal (1995) and Steffen Sörum in Fundamentalt nå (Fundamental Now) (under the pseudonym Kazzab al-Abyad, 2003) are examining hybridism, identity, fundamentalism and white resistance – as if the struggle of ‘the others’ is also their struggle, a struggle to define what kind of society non-immigrants want to have in the Europe of today.

And it is a struggle. A struggle for an exclusive or an inclusive Europe. Just at the present time West Europeans lead the world in terms of being satisfied with their lives, but they are frightened of the future. Only 35% of Germans are optimistic about the next five years, and 19% are pessimistic. In contrast to the Americans (61% optimists, 7% pessimists), Africans (Senegalese 91% optimists, 2% pessimists) and Asians (with the exception of depressive Japanese), less than half of the French and Italians have a positive outlook about the prospects from now until 2007. And it gets even worse if one asks West Europeans about their view of the future for their children. Italians are three times more pessimistic than optimistic about their children’s future. A clear majority believe that Italian children will have it worse in future than they do today. East Europeans, Africans and Asians have a more optimistic view of the 21st century than West Europeans.

West Europeans’ pessimistic voicing of the belief that Europe’s time at the top is over does not come completely out of the blue. It is our whole Eurocentric view of the world which is being put to the test in ever starkerform. After the last of Europe’s two great wars, which developed into worldwars, the continent has had less and less power, relatively speaking, in the world. A long series of European countries are mere shadows of themselves since their enforced colonial domination of countries in Asia, Africa and America gradually disappeared after 1945. And since 1989 the world’s only superpower has not needed Europe as much as it did during the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Well into the 21st century, the great wave of the elderly will lead to Europe’s population sinking by 100 million. The continent’s relative importance in the world will decrease if the borders are not thrown open to new blood in the same way that such self-declared immigrant lands as Canada and the USA have done. The UN’s population office has declared that Europe is on the brink of a drastic reduction in the numbers of its inhabitants. The Spaniard Mikel Azurmendi, chairman of the council for social integration of immigrants in Spain, points out that Europe now faces a historic challenge if it is to avoid sinking to its knees from old age: “Either Europe becomes a great ‘melting pot’ like the USA, or there will be a catastrophe.
We can choose between building up a mixed European culture, a post-national mestizo culture, or it will end in a breakdown of democracy with charismatic leaders and warmongers emerging, and race fighting against race in Europe.”

The Polish-British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has written of us postmodern people that “we ‘lack commonality’ because we lack security”. If we turn this statement on its head, it becomes clearer: We lack security because we lack commonality. Uncertainty is lack of se-curity, and lack of security creates fear. And the 1990s have been full of challenges for the new Europe: the break-up of the old Eastern Europe, the reunification of Germany, the Balkan wars, the EU’s struggle for Schengen, a common constitution, the euro, the flourishing of populist parties, state privatisation, disagreements about the USA’s foreign policy – and again: the enlargement of the EU to include Eastern Europe.

Eurocentrism instead of inspiration
We live in an era where we struggle to understand ourselves as Europeans. We think it’s great that the new Europe is getting together, but at the same time we know that the ‘Fortress Europe’ we are creating for ourselves is leading to thousands of deaths and tragic outcomes for Asians and Africans who are being brutally shut out. We are proud of the advanced welfare system we have developed in Western Europe, but at the same time we know that, if we think about it, our wealth is built on the slavery of earlier times – colonialism, imperialism and wars – at the same time as we preserve our wealth by denying the same poor countries that we used to exploit access to our markets. We are proud of our democracy, but at the same time the fact is that our governments are sup-porting some of the world’s most totalitarian regimes so that we can benefit ourselves, at the same time as the opposition parties in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Chechnya have to manage best they can. We have developed a self-glorifying image of Europe which is possibly the most eurocentric ever.

In the 1700s European intellectuals hailed China for everything from philosophy to porcelain and painting. In the 1800s Persia and Egypt were the great models – a long series of philosophers from Goethe to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer recognised that our common human civilisation had been developed by Asians, and that we Europeans could barely stand on the shoulders of what they had created for us. And at the beginning of the 20th century India was the inspiration for European intellectuals who recognised that the whole Indo-European language-family had developed from Sanskrit. Even Hitler turned to India in a spiritual sense for his swastika and his Aryan racial theories.

But today? Where do we freely admit that we derive our inspiration from? At best, from us Europeans ourselves. Americans are usually described by West European intellectuals as stupid and superficial, and opinion polls point to the USA as the worst enemy of world peace. Israel and the Jews are number two on the hate-list, in strong competition with Muslims and Arabs. Young European intellectuals will often conceal their contempt for Muslims, but in general we have such low level of knowledge and deficient promotion of the fact of centuries of Muslim-Christian co-operation, that preconceptions, mistrust or hate are a convenient solution for large parts of the population. Nor do we any longer look up to the Chinese or the Indians. At the beginning of the 21st century text-books, the media and public discourse in general tend to worship only what is European.

And it is this mentality that we took exception to in our books Blanke løgner, skitne sannheter (Shining-white lies, dirty truths) (2002) and Frykten for Amerika (Fear of America) (2003). We want to show up the whole destructive Eurocentric mentality. We want to bring the ‘culture wars’ to Norway, Scandinavia and Europe. In the 1980s and 1990s ‘The Culture Wars’ were raging in the USA, with the result that the perspective of minorities was at last taken seriously. As a result we found out that it was actually the Iroquois who developed the principles of democracy, division of powers and freedom of expression in the USA, long before the European colonisers crossed the Atlantic and took inspiration from them. Both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin acknowledged this in their writings, something that Bill Clinton himself acknowledged in 1994, before the American Congress on 27th November 2001 unanimously declared that the Indians were the first true democrats. We have been told that American cowboys in the 1800s were not white, but for the most part blacks and Hispanics. That the Jews created Hollywood in the 1920s. And from a similar perspective, we discover that the World Trade Center was built by the Japanese-American architect Minoru Yamasaki (1912–86), with inspiration from Mecca. The Twin Towers symbolised two minarets, so that Osama bin Laden’s airborne suicide-bombers actually destroyed the world’s highest homage to Islam.
And how would our own European and Scandinavian history look if we adopted a similar perspective on our own past? The Jewish Georg Brandes and his brother, for example, laid the foundations of modern Scandinavian literature with the help of the international contacts he had. Closer examination reveals the whole of our Scandinavian past and present to be a product of foreign influence, with input from immigrants and minorities. We need a new understanding of the whole of our past and present. The myth of national purity which was created by National Romanticism at the beginning of the 19th century no longer has validity or positive relevance in the globalised world of the early 21st century.

Let literature be impure
We need to derive a new myth out of the foreign, impure and unknown that is lacking in our collective understanding of reality. Our model could be the Norwegian novelist and winner of the Nordic Council’s literature prize, Jan Kjærstad (b.1952). When, at the end of the 1990s, the young Norwegian publisher and author Geir Gulliksen wanted to make tangible who he was thinking of when he talked about the new literary trend of investigating the tension between the collective/political and the individual/culture in an experimental and accessible form, the answer was: Jan Kjærstad.

He is an author who has been translated into all the most important languages of Europe, and who to some extent has had more success in countries like Sweden and Denmark than in his homeland Norway. His break-through came with the Jonas Wergeland-trilogy Forføreren (The Seducer) (1993), Erobreren (The Conqueror) (1996) and Oppdageren (The Discoverer) (1999) – which can be read as an actual challenge to the prevailing view of society in Europe, under the motto “Norway in the world, and the world in Norway”. This can also stand as our motto. We wish to carry over Kjærstad’s literary poetics to our own documentary poetics. Let literature be-come reality! Yes, we actually want to believe that complex global human history – like the stories about the World Trade Center and democracy – will appear just as fantastic as the fiction of those novels.

Kjærstad’s novel is built round figures central to Norwegian life, but all the national icons are portrayed in con-tact with the outside world (often outside Europe) – he calls 1973 ‘the Year of Shame’ because it was the year in which the populist Fremskrittpartiet (Progress Party) was founded, and the ending of the novel is set in Sognefjord on board the ship ‘Voyager’ (earlier called ‘Norway’) which now has a young, multi-artistic and internationally-orientated crew. But just as important as the message of the novels is their form – which in the trilogy appears to be arbitrary, with the biographies resembling small modern network-communities.
In his essay “Up With the Impure” from 1991, Kjærstad leaps to the defence of impure literature. As the world is chaotic and difficult to grasp, Kjærstad believes, literature should be the same. “All larger towns illustrate the impure place, from architecture to immigrant groups. Through the flood of information and TV we live in an impure time, in which history and the present merge. Every human being moves around in an impure mental zone, in a blend of dream and reality.” By the same token, we want to defend and fight for the impure understanding of history.

Kjærstad is right in saying that literature can be a clear or distorted mirror of its own times, but this assertion can also apply to history. Even with the emergence in the mid-19th century of the nation-state, which attempted to create a fictitious cultural and political order in a world without distinct borders Times of upheaval along the way: the decadence of the 1890s, the antimodernism of the 1930s, the communism of the 1950s, the anti-bourgeois rhetoric of the 1960s. Not to mention how Arabic philosophy, medicine, literature and natural science laid the foundations for the whole European Renaissance, with northern Europe receiving its cultural education via the Muslim-Jewish-Christian centres of learning in Toledo, Cordoba and Granada from the end of the 800s and beyond, till darkness by and by sank over Spain with the Inquisition, colonial intolerance and belief in the pure state in the sixteenth century.
Globalisation, then, in both the cultural and economic sense, is nothing new. The new thing now is fear of globalisation – as 150 years of nation-state indoctrination lost its force in the 1990s.

As early as 2,100 years ago the Greek-Roman historian Polybius (200–129 B.C.) could declare; “In earlier times, the history of the world has consisted of a series of separate episodes whose causes and results had as little to do with each other as the geographical distances which separated the countries. But from now on, history will be an organic whole. What concerns Italy and Africa is connected with what is happening in Greece or Asia, and every event is connected to every other one, contributing to a common goal.”

Viewed over a longer time, it is clear that ‘impure literature’ is more reminiscent of realism than fantasy – that genre which is most of all suited to dealing with the bits and bobs of contemporary uncertainty. If we are to believe Kjærstad, the dominant literature of today is somewhere else altogether. “So how should we, as Norwegian writers, react to the situation? With books filled with secure, well-tried – I was about to say unsullied – ingredients and skill. It’s as if we are trying to demonstrate a national, puritanical bent. And the critics are rewarding us.”

The influential Douglas classic Purity and Danger from 1966 believes that ‘primitive’ communities are more obsessed with purity and exclusion than ‘civilised’ societies. Bauman’s Modernity and Holocaust from 1989 shows the opposite. The Taliban movement and the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s show in their own ways that the dream of purity is not so preoccupied with borders.

New myths which challenge the established
We need myths and we need order. This is something we can’t get rid of. We can only change it. Substitute new myths for old. The challenge is therefore to find other myths and forms which challenge the established, the wrong-headed and the exclusionist myths which have dominated us for the last 150 years, based on a faulty acquaintanceship with facts and knowledge. Like the idea that Greece is the only cradle of western civilisation, that the Renaissance was an Italian invention, that American democracy took its inspiration from Europe and that East and West never shall meet. “All over-ambitious theories about the world begin with people changing facts”, writes the Norwegian author Aage Borchgrevink in his last travel sketch from Eastern Europe, Eurostories.

And myths about Europe as a melting-pot do exist – for anyone who searches for them. The starting-point can be the myth of Europa – the Asiatic princess who was the daughter of the Phoenician king Agenor and grandchild of Libya, whom Herodotus, among others, called Africa. Europa was ravished by Zeus and brought to Crete, thereby giving the continent its name. Africa is Europa’s paternal grandmother, Asia is Europa’s father. The story about Europa is therefore basically a melting-pot myth which develops further by way of the Moorish empire in Spain, Renaissance art in Constantinople, yes, even into the era of colonialism.
Kipling never said nor believed that east is east and west is west and they will never meet. What he actually wrote in his ballad was:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s Great Judgement Seat; But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth

Kipling’s The Ballad of East and West from 1889 bears witness to not only faulty close reading, but lack of reading altogether. Kipling’s quote has become a myth which has taken on a life of its own. We can start from that. Change it, create a new myth and say: East is West and West is East – and ever shall they meet. It isn’t politically correct. It is simply the truth.
This is the greatest challenge for the new generation of Europeans at the beginning of the 21st century: How shall we understand the world we live in? There actually lies hidden an underground world of facts which are daily repressed, suppressed or insufficiently communicated.This is what we are looking for: a new, un-ideological, globalised and cosmopolitan world-view. Intellectuals of the world, unite.

Translation: Harry Watson

Stian Bromark (b.1972) was formerly editor of the weekly Ny Tid, and is now a literary critic with Dagbladet. Dag Herbjørnsrud (b.1971) is a historian of ideas who currently works for Aftenposten. They were joint authors of the documentary works Blanke løgner, skitne sannheter. En kritikk av det nye verdensbildet (Shining-white lies, dirty truths. A critique of the new world-view) (2002) and Frykten for Amerika. En europeisk historie (Fear of America. A European History) (2003), both published by Tiden Norsk Forlag.
If you wish to get in contact with the writers please email them at (Dag) or

"Det er vanskelig å forstå seg rett på mennesker, hvem som er gal og hvem som er klok. Gud hjelpe oss alle for å bli gjennomskuet", Knut Hamsun