Inventing traditions for Europe – Part One rainbowllamas.weebly
European Culture

What is the difference between a country and a nation? This is a familiar question that more often than not our history teachers asked us in class. A rough guess would place the idea of a nation somewhere above that of a country, as a nation is more than a geographical area, borders, sovereignty and institutions. It goes beyond and pictures the idea of a community united by a common language, history and especially traditions. It is about people. But how to instill nationalism into people who have nothing in common but the fact that they are living within the same borders? The answer is simple: invent traditions.

The concept of inventing traditions was coined in the eponymous book edited by E.J. Hobsbawn and T.O. Ranger in 1983. "Nothing appears more ancient and linked to an immemorial past than the pageantry which surrounds British monarchy in its public ceremonial manifestations. Yet, as a chapter in this book establishes, in its modern form it is the product of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” This sentence opens the introduction of the aforementioned book and illustrates through a well known example how the process of inventing traditions works. It consists in creating a strong link to the past by implementing repeated behaviors and certain values that are seen by the population as a common ground for a shared identity. Other notable examples all across Europe include the reconstruction of the Palace of Westminster in Gothic style in the 19th century or the project “Skopje 2014” in Macedonia which aims to heal the dented national identity by building statues and monuments in the capital city to reiterate history in the nation’s conscience. Those cases in point are just a few from a long series of invented traditions in Europe, a continent where the idea of nation emerged only in the late 19th century in most of its countries, but where cultural elements lead people to think that it happened hundreds of years earlier.


The past, however, is an actively invented and reinvented product of historians and represents the fuel of modern nationalism. An interesting case for this topic is the European Union – an artificially created federation initially aimed only at economical and institutional integration. The European Union and especially The Commission has lately seen this phenomenon as a top priority and has been trying to compensate for its fragmented political structure and population with the idea of a shared European identity and a common past. But has it always been like that?

Back in the day, when the European Economic Community was set up, none of the founding fathers considered political and social integration to be something more than a by-product of the common market and a free association of sovereign states. The idea of providing real people with fuel for their idiosyncrasies was not on the agenda of the EC. The technocratic approach which characterizes the period 1950-1970 focused on building bridges to allow the free movement of goods, capital, labor and services, which would automatically trigger political integration, too. But that did not happen and led to the contemporary skepticism and mistrust among the citizens of the Member States. The belief that the transfer of trust from national institutions to the federation would occur naturally and bring about a sense of belonging to a united community among people was deceiving. 


The change took place in the 1980s, when culture and shared traditions were not seen as a by-product anymore, but as an independent process, which needs time and dedication from both sides to reach its goal. Interviews of Brussels leaders revealed that they were convinced that the neofunctionalist approach was not the best strategy and that EU needs to be more aware of its cultural heritage and learn how to "involve people in their own destiny”. The 1992 Maastricht Treaty, a cornerstone in EU history, officially enforced the importance of culture and citizens’ involvement. Even before that numerous media campaigns promoting European citizenship were launched, so a clear strategy revision was noticeable. Almost 10 years before, in 1983, the Solemn Declaration on the European Union  signed by EC heads of government in Stuttgart, was an open invitation to the Member States to “promote European awareness and to undertake joint action in various cultural areas”, “in order to affirm the awareness of a common cultural heritage as an element in the European identity”. This move was definitely a fresh breath of air in comparison to the former actions and a clear sign of the attept to create “European citizens” and “a Europe for people”.

To be continued

Edited by: Lisa Enocksson