7 November 2010 In search for the Navel of Europe

Yesterday’s meeting at the National Museum was dominated by the discussion on who a Middle-European citizen really is and whether the use of such terms makes any sense? whether a specific identity for this part of Europe exists, and if so, what determines it? what gives multiculturalism and finally, where this mythical navel of the continent is? Distinguished guests from Ukraine, Slovenia and Hungary : Yuri Andrukhovych, Aleš Debeljak and László Krasznahorkai sought to answer these questions. The meeting was hosted by Krzysztof Varga. Kiefer's painting “Das Haar”, which accompanied Friday's events at the National Museum – launched a number of other contexts and questions yesterday in light of the new discussions.

The author of “The Dark Skies of America” – Aleš Debeljak stressed that the eastern border of Europe is flexible. “It is the result of perception” he said. “I don't only feel a Slovenian. Other stories speak through me”. A large part of the discussion also addressed the question of “literary geography” – how a given place determines the specificity of perceiving the world, notably in literary texts, films and culture of a given country. Andrukhovych noted that “awareness of the existence of Ukrainian literature is very poor.” One of the causes he mentioned included the heritage of close Russian literature. A fairly radical opinion about Hungary was presented by the author of “The Melancholy of Resistance” by László Krasznahorkai: “I am not able to be proud of the fact that I live among fools.”

An extensive part of the discussion focused on trying to answer the question about where the “navel of Europe” is, whether it is a geographic or symbolic place. Andrukhovych took up the topic of the Polish documentary film by Stanisław Mucha titled “In der Mitte” telling about the existence of over 70 places, the inhabitants of which recognize that this is where the centre of our continent is located. Among them – as the Ukrainian artist reminded – there is the Austrian town of Braunau, where Hitler was born in 1889.

Debaters also engaged in a discussion about the future of European integration, emphasizing its superficial nature: “What is the European community supposed to be” asked Varga. “An ATM from which we will only take out money?”. The Hungarian artist pointed out that on the continent there is “fear against one common unifying idea, because it would quickly prove to be totalitarianism, the danger of which have already learned.”