An accurate portrayal of the EU crisis

EUROPA / Is it now about developing a kind of European solidarity, or have we become space polygamous?


The photograph above became a picture of an EU in crisis. A group of white Danes gathered on a motorway bridge over Europavej 47, not far from Rødby in Lolland. Down below, in the emergency trail, the notorious walk Flygtningee, driven by a hope of reaching the open heart of Sweden and Frederik Reinholts (former prime minister).

The refugees have traveled far, from dry and sand-blasted Syria to the wet and grassy north, and yet they do not meet with kindness. In the front row of the bridge stands a Danish man. He is overweight and red-haired, his hair curls uncut at one ear, his cheeks red-rimmed, and from the "pinnacle of power", well raised above the refugees, he spits down at the crowd.

The middle-aged man must be part of "the yellow Denmark", a supporter of the Danish People's Party and a resident of "the rotten banana" (a designation for the distressed outskirts that geographically draw a "banana" on the map).

Security junkies

The refugee crisis hurt the European in self-understanding. Why may be a little hard to understand, but Hungarian philosopher Ágnes Heller does in his essays Paradox Europe (2019) finely and educationally prepared for the problem: As a species we humans are some intrinsic security junkies. Children learn things from their parents. And what they learn, they perceive as true, just as they perceive that what they are told is right (to do) as right (to do). So elementary, Heller works, and thinking is not categorical, but operates – mostly – with a degree classification: others may be more or less foreign to one, no one is equal, there are always degree differences, levels of strangeness.

A 58-year-old man is charged with spitting on a group of refugees. This was a great surprise when several media outlets published Information Photographer Sigrid Nygaard's picture. The man is charged with violation of the racial clause and the violence clause. (Facsimile Informati on 29.10.2015)
A 58-year-old man is charged with spitting on a group of refugees. This was a great surprise when several media outlets published Information Photographer Sigrid Nygaard's picture. The man is charged with violation of the racial clause and the violence clause. (Facsimile Informati on 29.10.2015)

A passage by Heller, typically in both style and reasoning, reads: «Other people in other worlds believe in something else, they follow other seats and customs. They are fremmede. We are afraid of them. Why? Because we lose our home, that is, our sense of certainty and security, should the habits and beliefs of others be right. We feel at home in our own world. But for others it is us who are the strangers. ”No one wants to be revealed in their own obvious self-deception. Neither are afraid of postulates. In a few lines, and with bargains, she formulates her terms. And habits and beliefs are just one thing, another is finances. Maybe we give some coins to the hungry children in the world's hotspots, but how many of us would actually accept them or let our tax money go to these strangers?

Human in the world

According to Heller, the "we identity" can be made up of such diverse things as place, ethnicity, religion or "people". And what a community among others can do is offer the individual one indentity: to be Danish, German or Norwegian is to possess a particular work ethic, a special frame of mind or temperament, and as a result of school institutions' long-standing indoctrination, nationality has become an important marker of identity.

For others, it is us who are the strangers.

Nationalism is defined in one of the essays as the unconditional attachment to the "nation" as the all-encompassing identity. Heller writes that back «in 1914 prevailed nationalismn above the working class internationalism and the cosmopolitanism of the bourgeoisie ». The great kingdoms were dissolved into nation states, and Austrians, Slovaks, Hungarians, Serbs, Greeks and Turks all began to hate each other. As Heller points out, no foreign cultures, peoples, religions, seats and customs judge solely on their own experience or proven knowledge. We all have unfounded prejudice «those who are not like us, those who threaten us, are dangerous to us and who we perceive as evil». We humans are common in despising differences, at least «the radically different», but at the same time we also depend on «the others», because we must have some to distinguish in relation to.


The nation states prospered well until after World War II, when many countries took "the consequence of the dark side of the nation state and created a European community". The murky back of self-condemnation, the condemnation of "the strangers", had devastating consequences, and the European Union wanted to diminish the power of nation states and develop a kind of European solidarity.
In good times, it is easy to join noble ideals, but during crises, such as the refugee crisis, the sense of solidarity is put under pressure. The questions are in line. Should we ease the pressure on the southern European countries, give the Dublin regulation a look, and not just, as the politician of the Danish People's Party Marie Krarup, refuse that refugees are (still) talking about coming to Denmark via four to five peaceful land? The refugee crisis brought EU in conflict with own ideals.


No one wants to be revealed in their own obvious self-deception.

As Heller writes, the value conflicts are clearly emerging in the current refugee crisis. And here she thinks not only of the sense of European solidarity, but also of Europe's self-understanding as a cultured and progressive civilizationthat goes up in human rights. Should we open our hearts to the world's refugees? Or should we rather prioritize funds for our own? Do we live on a lie that it is harmless for to do something? And are we only in solidarity with ourselves when it comes to that? Is the EU "a union of nation-states" that stands closest to itself?

The whole world is my home

Heller's essays are insightful. In a few pages, she gives a precise account of the EU crisis. But she is unfortunately a little outdated when she talks about present-day Europe as a place where "the nation" has become the overriding identity and "where the children learn in school or from parents how magnificent and superior their nation is".

"White guilt» also plagues us Europeans these years. University studies in postcolonialism points the arrow at the faults of our own culture, and at the same time fractions are formed across national borders, not least through transnational forums such as the Internet.

Contrary to the old days, time and place are no longer decisive for the identity of younger generations. With a notion of sociologist Ulrik Beck we have become space polygamy: We have several affiliations, and our identity is no longer bound to the place, but the piece, a conglomerate of good and evil. And that might make empathy more unbound, transnational. Grænseløs.

Agnes Heller

Agnes Heller

Heller (1929–2019) has lectured in political philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York for 25 years. Among other things for MODERN TIMES editor Truls Lie who went there in 1991.

Among the books she has published are:

The Theory of Need in Marx  (1976)

Everyday Life (1984)

The Postmodern Political Condition (with F. Fehér, 1989)

Can Modernity Survive?  (1990)

In Ethics of Personality (1996)

The Time is Out of Joint:
Shakespeare as Philosopher of History

The insolubility of the "Jewish question", or Why was I born Hebrew, and why not negro? (2004)

Immortal Comedy: The Comic Phenomenon in Art, Literature, and Life. (2005)


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