2018 – The European Year of Cultural Heritage: What heritage?

Finally the EU has adopted the principle of a European Year again. The last one was the European Year for Development in 2015. Certainly the prospect of the European elections next year was a driver in the decision to promote such a year. The experience of previous European years has clearly shown that they must be more than just a communication exercise from which only big communication agencies benefit.

Nationalistic views and policies have made a massive comeback in the political sphere and right wing so-called “identitarian” movements have emerged in the search for identities in these moving and shaking times. Progressives have traditionally found it difficult to integrate the term, and rightly so when it comes to so-called national identity. Individuals within societies are always – intentionally or not – on a quest for identity, it is a process of construction and deconstruction. When the labour movement developed around the classical forms of industrial production and relations, it found its identity in (the working) class and the antagonism between capital and labour. In our times there are new forms of labour, new forms of dependency and new forms of precariousness for different forms of employment, therefore the classical definition no longer neatly applies. Nevertheless the European Year 2018 shall include the cultural heritage of our welfare states and social protection schemes which are part of our European culture. While all around Europe former industrial sites are transformed into places of cultural production, the link is also physical and built in stone.

2018 is furthermore the anniversary of 1968 – the students’ movement in most Western European countries. It was a cultural protest breaking with post-war societies, taking its lead from the civic movements in the US, theoretically inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Ghandi and others. It reflected the US war in Vietnam and the decolonisation process in the Southern hemisphere in general. Given that today in many countries civic and democratic space is shrinking and our societies are under threat of a “conservative revolution”, the European Year may also be a moment to reflect on how far the student movement of 1968 has contributed to opening up our societies and liberal democracies all over Europe. As Gramsci said ‘The popular element "feels" but does not always know or understand; the intellectual element "knows" but does not always understand and in particular does not always feel.’ Cultural heritage needs to be felt and understood in a progressive way, it is not limited to classical art, architecture or Culture. If we Europeans have more in common than feelings, we need at least to spread the knowledge about social and cultural progress!

This editorial appeared in the Weekly Round Up of 12 January 2018.