Goodness Is Elsewhere: The Rule of European Difference

Reflecting on European colonialism in 1950, a time when discussions about what we now know as the European Union emerged in western Europe, Aimé Césaire wrote: (…) “Europe is morally, spiritually indefensible.” This idea is fairly commonplace in much of the post-colonial world and it has some purchase within certain academic and intellectual circles elsewhere. And yet, in the process of denouncing the widely noted presence of racism in Hungary, thirty-six leading Hungarian intellectuals have, in an open letter published in 2001, felt compelled to thank France, and through France, a generic, trans-historical notion of Europe, for what they saw as the latter’s profound, longue-durée goodness. It is partly my concern for the economic hardship, political marginality, cultural discrimination, and social exclusion faced by the Romanies of eastern (sic!) Europe and partly the precision with which the Letter articulates the topos of west European moral superiority – a central pattern of European identity discourse – that prompts me to raise the following initial questions: How is it possible to denounce racism by referring to Europe, especially western Europe, the main historic source and promoter of racism as we know it today? What purpose does the genre of the open letter serve and how does it function? How does the signatories’ implicit project of geopolitical self-positioning relate to the theme of the West as an object to be emulated, long dominant in the modern history of east-central European ideas of emancipation?

Released: Replika 115–116, 69–97.
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