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A propos Nicolas Sarkozy and the problem of the borders (1)

Friday 10 August 2007, by Hans-Peter Geissen

As a president of France, Nicholas Sarkozy is certainly someone whose words should be taken serious. Though, as a German observing affairs in Turkey, sometimes I may find it difficult to do so, insofar as what arrives at my eyes or ears is a very small selection of what becomes known in France itself, and such fragments may be selected in either a one-sided or an occasional manner. The usual escape from such a problem is to mention the proverb that “deeds speak louder than words”, as relevant deeds may become known less selectively than words.

That’s not to say that words are irrelevant, just that it is more uncertain which words are relevant and which are not, whereas deeds always bear some relevance.

Another possibility to arrive at a better understanding is to mention the pauses no less than the pulses. What is translated into deeds and which of the words are not ....

An interesting case recently appeared in relation with the question of European borders. An attempt to translate Mr. Sarkozy’s views on that question into European politics was announced: To set up a commission to discuss and evaluate where Europe is supposed to end or where it should end.

There are several issues to discuss, but the first thing we might take serious are the pauses. Sarkozy’s request was to fix geographical borders, not to define borders between Europe and Islam or to define Europe as something like a “Christian Club”.

The question may be why, as Sarkozy is supposed to indeed have a Christian (or “Jewo-Christian”) definition in mind. But in fact we can only speculate about minds, and which words represent the mind and which might rather relate to an election campaign, for instance. One such speculation might suppose that, if Sarko ever contemplated to define Europe religiously, he became aware that this would cause very serious problems, and the possibility of a postmodern European civil war might arise. By which I do not especially mean “Islamic terrorism”, but a war between Christians and non-Christians in a broader meaning. As religious war and prosecution is probably the deepest-rooted historical trauma in Germany and beyond, already the idea may cause some problems with respect to the general acceptance of that kind of “Europe”. So Europe may be defined geographically, but a political unity of Europe is only thinkable on the basis of secularism. Considering the pause one might conclude that Sarko is aware of that risk.

As to the borders

As may already emanate from the sentences above, I wouldn’t think that a definition of Europe is simply a matter of geography. But the term “Europe” is always used in a geographical meaning; it thus cannot be considered without considering geography, even if this aspect may remain unspoken in many cases. And as a geographical entity a Europe which is supposed not to have any borders, and indeed definable borders, is an impossibility. Thus, I must acknowledge that so far Sarkozy is right both in the pause and the demand. Which however does not suppose that an answer would be easy, or indeed possible, in the meaning of borders of political Europe to be fixed once and forever.

So what may be discussed? It’s easy to state that Europe is not a geomorphological continent; however, this is irrelevant for the question wether Europe has borders, and the mere fact simply poses the question of borders other than maritime coasts. It’s easy with the “Bosphorus-Ural” line as this does not even follow any coherent idea. It’s just nonsense, and it cannot be discussed for that very reason. There is nothing substantial which might be the subject of discussion.

I have already outlined a merely geographical definition of Europe by Herbert Louis on this site, the definition by “coherent settlement density”. To my knowledge it is without alternatives in the area of geography; it is relevant for the subject of political Europe insofar as it describes an entity of human geography related to both geo-ecology and human (specifically European) history; and it is relevant because it was formulated in the early 1950ies in a core country of the European Communities, Germany - exactly when the scope of what might become political Europe was predetermined and German (and Christian-Democratic) authorities like Ludwig Erhard and Walter Hallstein pressed for a balanced inclusion of both Greece and Turkey. That cannot have been totally alien to the founding fathers of the EU in France, Italy etc. either, given the fact that they all agreed on the inclusion of both Greece and Turkey as associate states with the definite perspective to join the developing community of European states.
At this point it should be recalled that Louis’ “anthropo-geographical” concept of Europe included all of Turkey, Transcaucasia, and southwestern Siberia in geographical Europe. There is no way not to discuss this concept if at all there shall be a discussion.

- To be continued...

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