Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Europe at Fifty: Asia Inconceivable?

Seventh-Century-Inspired T/O Map of the World
Isidore of Seville (ca. 560-636), Etymologiae (12th-Century Copy)
(Image from Wikipedia)

Last Sunday, Europeans celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the European Union (EU) -- if one assigns the EU's origins not to the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), formed in 1951 through the Treaty of Paris, but to the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which among other things established the European Economic Community (ECC) on March 25, 1957.

I happen to have come into the world about eight weeks later, so I've pretty much grown up with the new Europe and recall very clearly that American term for the EEC, the "Common Market," an expression that perhaps dates from 1968, when internal tariffs were abolished in the EEC (but I'm not sure).

My first understanding that something more than economics was going on came in 1981, when I was helping to cater an official event at Stanford University. Several Stanford graduate students and I were taking a break in the kitchen when a young, handsome fellow from the French consulate in San Francisco noticed the correspondingly young, lovely women with whom I was working and stepped inside to flirt with them. But he was charming and intelligent, which made up for his being also French, and he happened to make a remark that caught my attention as he was discussing the Common Market:
"We Europeans call it the European Community."
Officially, it was called the European Economic Community, so he must have meant that the Europeans called it the "European Community" as a convenience, for only with the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 did the term "Economic" get officially dropped.

But I recall thinking, "Oh, it's not just a market, it's a community." That word seemed to me to imply a political unity. I didn't know much about the EEC at that time, but I guess that my hunch was correct.

At any rate, it's certainly political these days, as a deluge of newspaper articles have recently affirmed, not only over the weekend but last week and this week as well.

One commenter, Roger Cohen, whose weekly articles I always enjoy, published a piece in the New York Times under the title "For Europe, a Moment to Ponder" (March 25, 2007), but which I read here in Korea in the International Herald Tribune under the title "A transformed Europe celebrates uncertainty: The EU, at 50, is still a work in progress" (March 24-25, 2007). In the IHT's European edition, the title was slightly different: "For a Europe remade, a celebration in uncertainty" (March 23, 2007).

Sometimes, I think that I try to be a little bit too precise.

Anyway, Cohen remarked upon European unification in a manner concise but connecting a lot of points:
What began in limited fashion in 1957 as a drive to remove tariff barriers and promote commercial exchange has ended by banishing war from Europe, enriching it beyond measure, and producing what [the Polish writer] Mr. [Adam] Michnik called "the first revolution that has been absolutely positive."

Asia, still beset by nationalisms and open World War II wounds, can only envy Europe's conjuring away agonizing history, a process that involved a voluntary dilution of national sovereignty unthinkable in the United States.
I like this sort of intelligent, informed, and broad-ranging but clear writing that comes from the pen of Mr. Cohen. Look at how many things he brings together in two brief paragraphs: free market economics, World Wars I and II, Poland's Solidarity Movement, the American, French, and Russian revolutions, Asian and European nationalism, and American exceptionalism.

Did I miss anything?

Note that Cohen mentions Asian "nationalisms." Not merely by coincidence, Stanford professor Shin Gi-wook, who currently acts as Director of Stanford's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, wrote an article, "Conflicting memories hinder unity in N.E. Asia" (March 27, 2007), for The Korea Herald, which is currently publishing a series on nationalism in Northeast Asia.

Shin notes that Northeast Asia is developing economic and cultural links that are drawing the nations in this region closer together but that the nations of this region are pushing emotional nationalisms that are threatening to tear it apart:
Growing economic ties and a new interest in cultural exchanges are bringing the countries of Northeast Asia closer together. Yet wounds from past wrongs -- committed in times of colonialism, war, and dictatorship -- are not fully healed. All nations have some sense of victimization -- Japan vis-a-vis the United States and Russia, and China and Korea vis-a-vis Japan -- and often blame others, rather than taking responsibility.
Shin proposes some solutions, among these: 1) developing a common understanding of the past; 2) using the shared past to promote regional reconciliation; and 3) encouraging critical, independent thinking to young Asians about their pasts.

Easier said than done, but Shin also presents suggestions on how to accomplish these things -- the reading of which, I'll leave to those interested.

These issues are currently on my mind because I and my poli-sci friend at Yonsei University, Kim Myongsob, are frantically working on a paper for an upcoming political science conference sponsored jointly by Korean Political Science Association and the Academy of East Asian Studies, Sungkyunkwan University: The Rise of Asia and Its Future: Global Impacts, Regional Implications, and National Ramifications (April 13-14, 2007).

Our paper will be presented in the first session (9:40-12:00) on April 13th, and we've tentatively given it the title "When Asia Matters: What Asia, Why and How?"

I can't reveal much about the paper at this time, but suffice it to say that Myongsob is a broad thinker and has me stretching the limits of my knowledge on this project. It ain't easy defining what Asia is, for it's so many things that imagining an Asian identity seems nearly impossible without falling back upon Eurocentric images to help us. So . . . we actually do a bit of that back-falling. And despite Edward Said, such views were never uniformly 'orientalistic' -- as the above T/O Map of the world demonstrates, for by placing Asia with its Garden of Eden at the top, where Christ's head would be on the crucifix pictorially alluded to, such representations of Isidore of Seville's description of the world privileged Asia both cartographically and iconographically.

And that's not a small thing for Westerners to do.

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