“The Struggle For and Over Identity in Modern Europe”
Day two of Casper College’s Humanities Festival kicked off with an expert presentation from Erich Franklin, political science instructor at Casper College. His presentation, titled “The Struggle For and Over Identity in Modern Europe,” was a comprehensive examination of the characteristics used to define national identities within the European nation states, as well as how the European Union has influenced a broader, more inclusive definition of identity for these nations. Franklin began by noting the dramatic shift that took place following the signing of the Westphalia Treaty, which marked the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648. This shift in European history introduced the nation state as the common form of government throughout Europe. However, each of these nation states derived their national identity from different ideals. For example, Germany consistently defined nationalism through blood; that is, one must be born a German to truly be a German. In contrast, France commonly held that citizenship is what denotes French identity, meaning that as long as you adhere to the ideals of French citizenship, you are included in French nationalism.Franklin also gave a brief history of the emergence and purpose of the European Union, explaining that it originated to keep a watchful eye on Germany, dissuade the Soviet Union from trying to invade or overrun the smaller European
Franklin also gave a brief history of the emergence and purpose of the European Union, explaining that it originated to keep a watchful eye on Germany, dissuade the Soviet Union from trying to invade or overrun the smaller European nations, and to protect these same nations from America. The belief was that this unified organization would give the nations involved an allied position against the much larger countries like the Soviet Union and America, and also make travel and trade among its members more fluid and comfortable. It was initially formed with only six countries and the criteria for joining the EU included: an established democratic government, a functioning market economy, the ability to meet all the requirements of membership, and a willingness to protect minority rights. The EU has expanded and now has 28 members.
In addition to explaining the history of nationalism throughout the European nations, Franklin also discussed some of the challenges European identities are experiencing today. The future of the European Union is a topic of interest, as decisions are being made to try and define the borders of Europe, which nations farther east on the continent could be considered for inclusion, and what inclusion Scotland and Wales might possibly have in the EU after last year’s vote in Britain, in which Britain seceded from the Union even though both Scotland and Wales voted to remain. Similar to the current political climate in the US, Europe’s nations are highly focused on immigration. Many European nations are experiencing population decline as well as large immigration rates, which has caused some to feel that national identity is under threat. This fear has given rise to stronger nationalist political parties who push for immigration reform and stricter immigration laws. An example of a recent change that has taken place in France is that now students are required to have a copy of and know the citizenship handbook. However, Franklin explained that one of the ways Britain has been able to expand its national identity to include the immigration population is through media. He shared that when television programs and other media outlets began to include the different subgroups of Britain’s population, like those from Jamaica or India, as representatives of the normal British culture, an inclusive attitude developed and Brits no longer marginalized those individuals as subgroups, expanding the national identity.
At the end of his presentation, Franklin generously took questions, and many of the questions were a continuation of the comparisons between what American nationalism and European nationalism is experiencing in the modern socio-political world. This comparison brought up another shift taking place in European identity – how Europe relates to America. Franklin described Europe’s relationship with America as a sort of “love-hate” relationship, and in the past Europe often positioned itself as a counterpoint, or opposition, to the American culture. However, recent terror attacks in France and other events have caused countries like France to look to America for help on how to handle these situations. So it seems the relationship between Europe and America may also be changing, as Europe’s identity continues to evolve.
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