‘Are we stayingin Europe?’

‘Are we stayingin Europe?’

What is Europe? “Isn’t it the plains? […] Are not her stars the bright ones?” as Greek poet Ioannis Polemis said in his famous poem about the homeland. And what does “We’re staying in Europe” mean? Is it a saga for our times and our abilities? Will it become a date, like that of the 1973 Polytechnic Uprising, to honor for ever?

The slogan “We’re staying in Europe” appeared in June 2015, when the then coalition government of SYRIZA and Independent Greeks (ANEL) was dragging the country toward the cliff edge. Thousands of protesters used it to urge a “yes” vote in a referendum over whether the country would accept the austerity proposals tabled by its creditors. It was born out of an independent – and as it turned out minority – movement.

And the question that arises in the upcoming discussion titled “Are We Staying in Europe?’ Wiretapping, Rights and the Rule of Law” (to be held at the Goethe Institute this Thursday at 7 p.m.), is simple: Is the “We’re staying in Europe” slogan simply an outburst which ended when then premier Alexis Tsipras embraced it on June 30, 2015, when he requested by letter Greece’s third (and unnecessary) bailout? Is it an anniversary for a museum, or is it an ongoing request for the modernization of the country?

Those who demonstrated at the time in favor of the European acquis were vilified as “Nazi sympathizers” and “quislings.” It was a difficult time that left scars on people’s consciousness and maybe that is why some were upset by the conference title. Of course, there are others who feel that they have acquired some proprietary relationship (maybe a copyright) with the slogan. Hence their criticism that some speakers at the upcoming conference “sided with those who did everything they could to get us out of Europe.” In other words, there are university professors on the panel who supported SYRIZA and may still support it.

Some others were irritated by the question mark in the title. They decided that “our stay in Europe is final and therefore there are no question marks.” We’ll agree, if we first clarify which Europe we are talking about. French President Emmanuel Macron’s or Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban’s? Italian leader Giorgia Meloni’s, or Greece’s, with 948 convictions at the European Court of Human Rights? “All [of this is] our Europe!” to adapt the poem by Polemis. “And these and those and something we have in our hearts.”

The most important question of all is this: Which Europe do we want and which Europe are we moving toward? Yes, we are not experiencing the free fall of the first half of 2015, but there is also such a thing as a gradual slide. We have to ask ourselves: Is the wiretapping scandal compatible with the European acquis? Are our rights protected like in France? Is the refusal of our intelligence services to speak about the issue before a parliamentary committee something we accept with our European heart? All these and more are issues that must be discussed, because the price of “staying in Europe” is the same as that of democracy. We always need to be vigilant.

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