How to approach “Europe”? In the face of increasing criticism of the EU and general Europefatigue,
this question arises now more urgently than ever. Politically, the European idea is coming
under more and more pressure – not least because it is increasingly only being defended with
arguments of economic and functionalist nature. Contrary to the pessimistic current diagnoses, it
is therefore necessary to ascertain the successes that have been achieved together. It is time we
remembered and told a European story. Stories have always held the capacity to unite and the
power to create identity. But it is not about constructing a specific narrative. Instead, we must dare
to go back into lived history in order to appreciate the value of a united Europe. Recent publications
such as Etienne Francois’ (ed.) Europa. Notre histoire1 and Aleida Assmann’s Der europäische Traum
and Auf dem Weg zu einer europäischen Gedächtniskultur2 bear witness to the renewed explosive nature
of the European theme of remembrance. We want to dedicate ourselves to the outlined goal and
make a contribution to the project of a shared European culture of memory.
Before a story can develop, it needs an animating retrospective: The gaze turns back to the events
and themes of yesterday, the factors that have led to our situation today and can give courage and
orientation for tomorrow. The peaceful revolution of 1989 and the subsequent reunification stand
like no other event for European integration: decades of division were overcome, diversity was
united and new conversations began. How can the long journey from 1948 through 1989 to the
present be told? A possible beginning for the narrative of this story is to enter into dialogue with
Europeans whose lives make the abstract idea of Europe concrete. It would therefore be important
to identify the intellectual driving forces that designed and realized the Europe that we all share
In the spring of 2017, a group of young European thinkers joined together to form “Arbeit an
Europa” (“Working on Europe”). Among their goals is a project to collect renowned and
experienced voices on the idea of Europe in the various member countries of the European Union
and to record them in sound and writing in order to outline a panorama of the European zeitgeist.
The emphasis is deliberately placed on voices: with this auditory focus, the project is intended to
promote a contemplative intellectual examination. It is all too common for current European crisis
debates to narrowly demand activity and optimised operating procedures. However, a culture of
listening and mutual understanding is necessary in order to strengthen European integration. The
“European Archive of Voices” aims to contribute to this.
The procedure will be as follows: First, a multilingual young team of 25 interviewers was assembled.
Over a period of 18 months (2019-2020), it will be dispatched across Europe to conduct at least
50 interviews with Europeans born between 1920 and 1940. These are the people who helped build
Europe after 1945 and carried the intellectual discourse about European unity. The interviews
should follow a comparable structure, last a maximum of three hours, be digitally archived (original
audio plus translation as text element) and presented to the public via a website, and a closing
event. For this purpose, the interviews will span a range of languages and are to be translated into
English in text form.
In the following, possible question topics are listed and the aim of the discussions is further
explained. Afterwards, we will go into more detail on the implementation.
1 Etienne Francois, Thomas Serrier (ed.): Europa. Notre Histoire: l’héritage européen depuis Homère [Europe. Our
history: The European heritage since Homer], (Paris: Editions Les Arènes, 2017).
2 Aleida Assmann: Der Europäische Traum [The European Dream], (Munich: C.H.Beck, 2. Auflage 2018), and: Auf
dem Weg zu einer europäischen Gedächtniskultur [On the way to a European culture of memory], (Vienna: Picus,
Every conversation includes questions on:
– the individual’s life journey
– the lived experience of historical events
– past expectations for the future
– formative experiences of danger, resistance and progress
– important influences and pioneers
– drastic changes
– fundamental experiences of fear for oneself / society
– border crossings in the literal or figurative sense
– personal experience with the stages of European unification as well as with the foundation
and development of the European Union
– the personal view of Europe / wishes for a future Europe.
In this way, the discussions examine the relationship between one’s own identity and European
thought. In addition, specific “key moments” in European history will be placed into the context
of the individual biography of the interviewees: What meaning is attributed to events such as the
end of World War II, the rise of nation states or the opportunities for cooperation and peaceful
coexistence that were utilised or missed? What do eyewitnesses recall thinking or feeling about the
civil rights movements, student protests, anti-Semitic smear campaigns or the peaceful revolution
in Central and Eastern Europe? For example, what role do the years 1968 and 1989 play for one’s
own memory in relation to collective memory? Following these questions, a paradigmatic
investigation can also be made of the relationship between individual and national commemorative
Some of the questions collected at a two-day board meeting will serve as a guideline for all
interviews so that the material obtained can be compared. However, another component of the
interview is individually designed to appropriately take into account the personal background and
the unique life experiences of each of the discussion partners. On the one hand, the outcome of
the above questions will make it possible to identify similarities between the assessments and
memories of the various interview partners. On the other, the conversations should also explicitly
look for differences in the history of mentalities and cultural politics. Thinkers who are critical of
Europe should also have their say. Not in order to speak out in favour of a possible demarcation,
but also to enable a change of perspective through the experience and disclosure of the other and
thus to strengthen the common ground. The promising claim of an ever closer union can only be
pursued by recognising different perspectives and political conceptions of validity. It is no
coincidence that the principle of European integration is “united in diversity”. It is the declared
aim of our project to live up to this motto as a part of the “European Archive of Voices”.
In addition to the aforementioned Internet archive, possible distribution options include:
publication(s), exhibition(s), a scientific conference and an extended didactic preparation of the
interviews. We are particularly interested in the scientific recognition of this material as a valid
source for a later review on the history of mentalities. Furthermore, there are opportunities for a
cultural-sociological, historical-scientific and philosophical approach. The appropriate space for
this would be provided by a conference after the interviews have been conducted and published.
However, a comprehensive evaluation of the interview material, for example as a sociological study,
will not be possible within the scope of this project. Nevertheless, as already mentioned, the
underlying questionnaire should ensure the comparability of the material and thus its usefulness
for a later evaluation.
Possible interview partners are identified using the Munzinger Archive, newspaper archives, lists
of members of academies, etc. The selection of interviewees will pay close regard to ensuring the
greatest possible variance in terms of ethnic and social origin, gender, occupation, education and
social position. In addition to defenders of the European idea, sceptics will also be asked to take
part in the conversation. This diversity of perspectives is in the interest of the expressiveness of
the material that will be compiled.
Scientists, representatives of the religious community, trade unionists and politicians will be
considered. However, the special focus of the selection will be on people who have distinguished
themselves through cultural or artistic activity and intellectual commitment: Figures such as actors
and directors, writers and translators, who stood between the fronts especially during the Cold
War, sought out the community and opposed political hardening or isolation.
Like science, art stands for the search for a transnational dialogue about what unites us. What
distinguishes it from science, however, is that it is shaped by regional contexts – by local languages,
specific experiences and traditions. This brings art closer to the political sphere of the nation states,
even though – unlike them – it does not pursue only local interests. The sphere of culture thus
reflects in a unique way what distinguishes the European Community: the search for a community
and for exchange in the diversity of traditions.
In addition, the political-philosophical and legal debate has to be viewed from the lense of a
changing European landscape. On the one hand, communitarian voices will have their say,
including Eurosceptics who have publicly expressed political-philosophical or constitutional
concerns about European unification. On the other, the liberal voices that have been able to assert
themselves through the increase in legitimacy of European legal institutions will also be heard.
Finally, the role of religion in European unification will be discussed. Here we can think of the
ecumenical awakening after World War II, which is often set in relation to the establishment of an
ecumenical practice in situations of warlike distress. But we should also think of the “Occident”
concept, which had a strong influence on post-war European Christian democracy, then lost its
importance and is now being charged with ideological tendencies. A discussion of the Shoah will
play a special role in this area. In the face of current anti-Semitic tendencies, it will be relevant to
hear how Jewish Europeans have experienced and told history.
In order to implement the plan of the “European Archive of Voices”, the association “Arbeit an
Europa” has assembled a multilingual team of interviewers who will conduct the discussions within
the project period. Members are equipped with a uniform questionnaire. Each interview is prepared
by intensive personal research and by acquiring national contextual knowledge. In cooperation with
the “Young Europeans of the Year” of the Schwarzkopf Foundation, Young Europe and the
European Goethe Institutes, a diverse group of interviewers and intellectual “contemporary
witnesses” will be assembled.
With this project, the initiators intend to strengthen European historical awareness, to document
past and present lines of conflict as well as utopian outlines through authentic contemporary
witness reports and to make them accessible for later review through media and scientific analysis.
In addition to archiving the voices, an Internet site – including an extended digital distribution
strategy – will ensure the public visibility of the results of the project. In addition, accompanying
publications in magazines, websites and the daily press are planned. There will be public relations
efforts to promote reporting in German and European countries.
09/2018 and 01/2019: Preparatory meeting for content coordination, profiling and
recruitment of regional/country teams of interviewers
01/2019 – 03/2020: Conducting the interviews / 2 steering meetings
2020: Public/media presentation and distribution of the “European
Archive of Voices”, closing event, follow-up project
The registered non-profit organisation “Arbeit an Europa” (“Working on Europe”) is an
association of young thinkers and writers, including Simon Strauß (author and journalist [FAZ]),
Nora Bossong (author), Robert Eberhardt (publisher and gallery owner), Jan Starmans (economist),
Barbara von Gayling-Westphal (lawyer), Lisa Schulze (employee at the British Ministry of Labour),
Sarah Bühler (ancient historian).
The declared aim of the association is to focus on and strengthen the “cultural core of Europe”
through meetings in various European regions, public discussion events and various forms of