M E D I A W A T C H    S E R I E S
Marko Zajc, Janez Polajnar
Ours and Yours
Tanja Petrović
A long way home
Brankica Petković, Marko Prpič, Neva Nahtigal, Sandra Bašić-Hrvatin
Media Preferences and Perceptions
Mitja Velikonja
Sandra Bašić-Hrvatin, Brankica Petković
You call this a media market?
Brankica Petković, Sandra Bašić-Hrvatin, Lenart J. Kučić, Iztok Jurančič, Marko Prpič, Roman Kuhar
Media for Citizens
Mitja Velikonja
Jernej Rovšek
The Private and the Public in the Media
Sandra Bašić-Hrvatin, Lenart J. Kučić, Brankica Petković
Media Ownership
Roman Kuhar
Media Representations of Homosexuality
Dragan Petrovec
Violence in the Media
Majda Hrženjak, Ksenija H. Vidmar, Zalka Drglin, Valerija Vendramin, Jerca Legan
Making Her Up
Gojko Bervar
Freedom of Non-accountability
Sandra Bašić-Hrvatin
Serving the State or the Public
Sandra Bašić-Hrvatin, Marko Milosavljević
Media Policy in Slovenia in the 1990s
Breda Luthar, Tonči Kuzmanić, Srečo Dragoš, Mitja Velikonja, Sandra Bašić-Hrvatin, Lenart J. Kučić
The Victory of the Imaginary Left
Matevž Krivic, Simona Zatler
Freedom of the Press and Personal Rights
Karmen Erjavec, Sandra Bašić-Hrvatin, Barbara Kelbl
We About the Roma
Tonči Kuzmanić
Hate-speech in Slovenia
Darren Purcell
The Slovenian State on the Internet
Breda Luthar
The Politics of Tele-tabloids
Marjeta Doupona Horvat, Jef Verschueren, Igor Ž. Žagar
The Pragmatics of Legitimation

Mitja Velikonja
A Critique of the New Eurocentrism

eBook (3,51 MB, pdf)

Only a few nights separate you from the day Slovenia will become a member of the eu. At least officially, if your mind has not yet adapted to the European way of thinking and functioning. Do you throw paper scraps onto the floor? Phooey. That’s not European. Are you shouting at those who hold different opinions? Have you not yet mastered democracy? You speak only Slovene? How are you going to find your way in Europe?
Pil, a magazine for teenagers up to 14-15 years, thematic issue, January 2004, page 7

Never during the one-party era of the uniformity of mind under Yugoslav totalitarianism did I see as many red communist stars as I saw yellow, European stars in the spring of 2004, that is to say, under democracy. To put it differently, or in a manner less cynical than the opening sentence might suggest at first glance, I could not get rid of the impression that it is only one and a half decade after we abandoned the path of socialist revolution, that we have finally managed to put into practice a line from the Internationale that reads we have been naught, we shall be all; that we separated from Yugoslavia, a community of equal nations and nationalities, only to join anew another community of equal nations, the European Union; that only in the present political system of parliamentary democracy have we really experienced perfect party discipline, with all important political parties and institutions in Slovenia unanimously supporting Slovenia’s accession to the eu; that only after we wrenched ourselves from the Yugoslav federal embrace, have we managed to realize its ideological maxim– brotherhood and unity; that it took us only thirteen years of independence to realize anew our thousand-year-old dream; that only now can we truly experience the meaning of the concluding lines of the Slovenian anthem, all men free, no more shall foes, but neighbors be!; and that after detaching ourselves from the ‘West of the European East’ we have become the ‘East of the European West.’ Only now, after living for decades next to the open border/confine aperto between Slovenia and Italy, which I sometimes used to cross several times a day, have I learnt that there was a wall there separating the two countries and that it was pulled down on the historical date, May 1, 2004. And last but not least, only now do I realize how profoundly European was my childhood habit of eating Eurokrem produced by Takovo from Gornji Milanovac in Serbia, by all means no less European than my indulgence in Nutella or Kinder Lada!

The infinitely reproduced mantras of the new Eurocentric meta discourse have caught on and become normalized within all spheres of social life: in politics, in the media, in mass culture, in advertising, in everyday conversations. Prattle about the Europeanism of just about everything – politics, behavior, product quality, creativity, knowledge and so on – has permeated every pore of public discourse. ‘Europe has indeed become a magic formula, a moral concept’ (Puntscher Riekmann, 1997, 64), the ‘alpha and omega’ (Mastnak, 1998, 11).[1] Euro(pe) is a trend; it is fashionable, it is hip, it is more progressive, better and greater. Together, we are building a Europe that will have more soul, will be based on greater participation and greater mutual exchange, and will also be more prosperous, said the president of the cisl, the Italian confederation of trade unions.[2] Anything that is of any value is European, and Slovenia has finally become part of it: according to the then foreign minister, by joining the eu, Slovenia has come one step closer to this European center, European trends, European life, European prosperity, European dynamics and the like.[3]

At the same time, all things bad, backwards, obsolete, and all that is out, stand for the other side - the Balkans, the East, socialist past and so on. By joining the eu, Slovenia escaped the Balkan curse, said a journalist in the Spanish daily El Pais; we have witnessed the end of the era of the longest and the most horrible dictatorship in modern Europe – the communist dictatorship (the Italian Minister of Regions)[4] and of the most horrible totalitarianism that wearied the Slovenian nation for almost 50 years, of which one characteristic trait was the mentality of slavery (the former Belgrade Roman-Catholic archbishop of Slovenian descent);[5] only today has the Second World War really come to its conclusion (the president of the cisl, the Italian Confederation of Trade Unions).[6] In May 2004 Slovenia finally found its place among the family of western states (the President of Slovenia).[7]

In this study I look into the content, aspects and the principles of the formation and operation of the new Eurocentrism in Slovenia, which has generated a form of integrating, although inwardly differentiated, hegemonic and dominant meta discourse. While my interest in this ubiquitous and all-inclusive discourse was initially only superficial, over time it grew increasingly absorbing. Admittedly, at first I found it quite amusing, but this quiet pleasure was soon replaced with a growing wonder, sometimes even anger (perhaps discernible now and then from my style of writing), eventually leading to the decision to make an analysis of the visual and textual aspects of this discourse. I focused primarily on the period which I call eucstasy, i.e. the spring and early summer of 2004 when this Eurocentric meta discourse reached its peak, with the first climax occurring immediately before and during the accession of the ten countries to the eu, on May 1, 2004, and the second one before the June 2004 elections to the European Parliament. Let me also add that, in planning this study, I have deliberately left out some other critical and more reserved discourses on Slovenia’s accession to the eu that developed during this time.

In conducting this study, I was guided by a proposition put forward by the us based German social scientist, Andreas Huyssen (1995, 42), who said that ‘[a]t a time when simplifications and slogans abound, nothing is more necessary than critical reflection.’ The structure of this analysis and, consequently, the chapters in this book (Chapters Two, Three and Four) correspond to the three sets of questions I sought to answer. First, I was interested in the emergence and the principle of functioning of this new Eurocentric meta discourse (Chapter Two, EUtopia). How could it happen that one and the same syntagms – which I will illustrate with examples later in the text – were employed by political speakers, religious preachers, entrepreneurs, entertainers, intellectuals and teachers alike? What led state officials, advertisers, educators, nationalists and economists, scholars and cultural workers, public figures and randomly selected respondents, members of the group of the early democratic parties in Slovenia, popularly known as the Spring parties, as well as those politicians presumably representing the forces of Communist continuity, to resort, synchronously and systematically, to the same syntagms? What was that binding tissue thanks to which all these discourses, so different when viewed from afar, merged into one, non-conflicting, all-embracing and triumphant meta (or mega) discourse?

Second, I delved into the content of this meta discourse (Chapter 3, Euldorado). Which synonyms were used to denote Europe, or rather, which meanings were ascribed to it? Or, in short, albeit somewhat misleadingly: What does Europe mean? What are its characteristics (or, what does it mean to be European, and what is the most defining characteristic of that Europe?). Which word combinations, nouns and adjectives were most frequently used in this connection? Which were those that best expressed its ‘essence’ and the ‘necessity of Slovenia’s accession to Europe?’ What are its signifiers? What do its symbology and ritualism connote? Furthermore, in which contexts did Europe, European and related derivations appear on their own, without additional comments, suggesting that these terms were self-explanatory? And last but not least, I sought to answer the question of what Europe is not and in what ways the accession to Europe – and with it the entire Eurocentric discourse – was criticized, rejected or sometimes treated with irony.

Third, I was interested in various aspects of this new Eurocentrism (the concluding Chapter Four, Eugoism), primarily in terms of the new exclusions it brings with it. What has been left outside or ascribed to those parts contrasted with Europe? Which are its new peripheries and what kind of Non-Europe does it create? Which new dichotomies and hierarchies does it introduce? And finally, what is being neglected, concealed and avoided through this historical construction of ‘Euroland.’

The title of the book obviously alludes to neurosis in the psychoanalytical sense of the word, i.e. to a state that ‘does not disavow the reality, it only ignores it (Freud, 1987, 393). When analyzing the collected materials I frequently had an impression that the process of constructing Europe, speaking from the position of Freud’s ‘fantasy world,’[8] is similar to the neurotic’s aversion to ‘reality, because it is – entirely or in part – unbearable for him.’ (ibid., 11). Therefore, neurosis ‘disturbs the patient’s relation to reality in some way /…/ it serves him as a means of withdrawing from reality and /…/ in its severe forms, it actually signifies a flight from real life’ (ibid., 391). As a rule, neurosis ‘contents itself with avoiding the piece of reality in question and protecting itself against coming into contact with it.’ (ibid, 394). Its ‘symptoms are the symbolic expression of a psychical conflict whose origins lie in the subject’s childhood history /.../ these symptoms constitute compromises between wish and defence’ (Laplanche, Pontalis, 1992, 265). In my opinion, the new Eurocentric meta discourse belongs precisely there, in between, occupying that ambivalent position ‘between wish (for Europe) and defence (against Non-Europe).’

I intentionally left out public debates as well as my own dilemmas concerning the subjects of these debates, i.e. (dis)advantages, grounds/absence of grounds, necessity/non-necessity and (in)conveniences related to Slovenia’s accession. I was primarily interested in how this new Eurocentrism has been constructed, presented and then interpreted, and in the (material) aspects it involved. Eurosis is not meant to be simply a chronicle of that specific period, or a microanalysis of the events, reasoning and behavior during that time. My intention was also to point out something that could be called – to paraphrase the title of a Slovenian movie from the 1980s – the “Slovenian contribution to Eurocentric madness,” i.e. the wider platform constituting the basis of this new, hegemonic meta discourse of the united Europe, which has become an established notion over time and has acquired distinctive traits in Slovenia and elsewhere.

Since ‘abstract notions always hide a sensible figure,’ to use Derrida’s words (1990, 8), and since they always take on one or another kind of material form, I collected and analyzed a sizeable heap of materials, including posters, leaflets, brochures, interviews, invitations, speeches, photographs, symbols, prize contests and so on. However, what I really enjoyed was the collecting and studying of bizarre odds and ends, for example, lollipops with an € sign, Euro chewing gum, packaging for ear plugs displaying the eu sign, curious six-pointed doughnuts with the eu abbreviation, euro ties, T-shirts and neckerchiefs, euro shopping bags, book markers, maps, key rings and umbrellas, car shades and commercial yeast wrappers with euro motifs, European blue coffee cups with golden stars and the names of all members states (or white cups with blue stars), postal seals with eu symbols, a eurocalculator, euro souvenir caps and piggy banks, euro motifs on new documents and registration plates, photographs of faces and other parts of the body painted in blue and yellow, not to mention loads of other eurokitsch handed out in various advertising campaigns and from street stalls. Most of the analyzed material comes from Slovenia, with only several examples originating from other new member states. As regards stylistic conventions used in this study, the following rules have been applied: excerpts from literature or well-established syntagms are given in quotes, while examples of new Eurocentric discourse, including individual terms or collocations and longer passages, are in italics.

1 Mastnak’s lucid book opens with a categorical assertion: ‘As far as I remember, in these regions we had never before witnessed the uniformity of mind of the proportion recorded during the period of so-called approximation to Europe and integration with the eu.’ (Ibid.).
2 Primorski dnevnik, 1 May, 2004, p. 41.
3 Ibid., p. 27.
4 Ibid., 1 May, 2004, p. 13. A similar opinion was reported by the Catholic weekly Družina (2 May, 2004, p. 19), where it was said that communism severed Slovenia from it (Europe, m.v.) and condemned it to another world.
5 Družina, 25 April, 2004, cover page and p. 8. The residues of this mentality, according to the historian Tamara Greisser-Pečar, oppose every positive development (Družina, 2 May, 2004, p. 3).
6 Primorski dnevnik, 1 May, 2004, p. 41.
7 Ibid., p. 25.
8 Actually ‘in neurosis … there is no lack of attempts to replace a disagreeable reality by one which is more in keeping with the subject’s wishes. This is made possible by the existence of a world of phantasy, of a domain which became separated from the real external world at the time of the introduction of the reality principle. This domain has since been kept free from the demands of exigencies of life, like a kind of “reservation”; it is not accessible to the ego, but is only loosely attached to it. It is from this world of phantasy that the neurosis draws the material for its new wishful constructions, and it usually finds that material along the path of regression to a more satisfying real past’ (Freud, 1987, 187). English translations in this book are taken from “The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud”, London, The Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1986.