Carl Henrik Fredriksson, in an article in IWMpost, the journal of the Vienna-based Institut für die Wissenschaften von Menschen, recalls the controversy over the installation in 2005 by artist Feridun Zaimoglu, which saw the city’s Kunsthalle draped with what Fredriksson calls “420 blood red Turkish flags” (weren’t they just red?).
For the Viennese, of course, this inevitably recalled, as it was meant to, the Turkish sieges of the city, in 1529 and 1683, and the incident played, or was played, to the advantage of the populist far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). One must imagine that this politics was comforted by the interventions of the then bishop of St Pölten, Kurt Krenn, who warned loudly of the Islamisation of Europe, reminded Austrians that reason was not Muslims’ strong suit and opined that terrorism always had something to do with Islam. (Krenn was later stood down as a bishop in connection with an unrelated matter – in fact the usual matter for which bishops are stood down– and died in 2014.)
A similar historical perspective was in evidence in October 2005 when, on the collapse of Austrian objections to Turkey opening negotiations for EU membership, the country’s bestselling newspaper, Hürriyet, led with the headline “Viyana Valsi” (Vienna waltzes) and wrote: “Two times in history we have had to turn around at the gates of Vienna. Now we go to Europe on the road of peace and cooperation.”
Fredriksson’s more general point is that the perspectives of individual European states and peoples, which are weighed upon by their history, are likely to be misrepresented in what might be thought of as adversary nations (Greece in Germany, Germany in Greece, Germany in Ireland?) unless there is a common European public sphere. As has often been observed, the creation of a real sense of community in Europe awaits the arrival of the European demos; and there is little sign of that. More recently, however, there are indications of more realism on this noble aspiration.
For decades, Fredriksson writes,
pundits lamenting the lack of a European public sphere have put their hopes in the emergence of new, pan-European media. In vain. Jürgen Habermas, the most prominent advocate of the idea that the public sphere plays a pivotal role in the legitimation of any democratic system, has been one of them. However, in a speech to a social democratic conference in Berlin earlier this year, Habermas claimed that “for a supranational democracy that is still rooted in nation-states, we do not need a European ‘people’, but individual citizens, who have learnt that they can be both national citizens and European citizens in one person. And these citizens can very well competently participate in European decision-making in their own national public spheres, if the media only would meet their responsibilities.
Whether the media will meet their responsibilities – or would even acknowledge that they have any such responsibilities – is another matter. Personally, I wouldn’t hold out too much hope for privately owned media. A publicly responsible media operating according to a charter might be another thing, if there is the appetite for it.