The Malta Independent 20 March 2019, Wednesday

European culture in 2018

Karsten Xuereb Tuesday, 29 August 2017, 11:21 Last update: about 3 years ago

Next year promises to provide an interesting opportunity for cultural exchange across Europe. Citizens of the EU often look at their continental home as a political unit that is beleaguered by economic, financial and social matters that circumscribe European affairs to areas of bureaucracy, lack of efficiency and ensuing criticism. It will be worth researching whether the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU, recently concluded, will have contributed to a change in perspective in that regard. Valletta 2018: European Capital of Culture provides Malta with another opportunity to address European dialogue with citizens, this time by focusing on the international dimension of our capital city and the rest of the Islands through cultural collaboration, bridge-building and networking. However, there is yet another framework available to Malta, and this is the designation by the European institutions of 2018 as the European Year of Cultural Heritage. 

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As described by the European Commission, who is managing the programme through its Creative Europe funding scheme, this year will allow European citizens to address their cultural practices in ways that appreciate their present-day value in relation to their significance in local as well as European contexts. What makes us European today derives from what Amin Maalouf, in On Identity (2000), describes as our vertical heritage, namely those practices, customs and conventions that have contributed, over decades and centuries, toward our identities. On the other hand, our identities are not fixed and static, but thrive on challenges that encourage us to change, adapt and innovate ourselves in relation to others. This second strand is described by Maalouf as the horizontal heritage, that is all the influences and relationships that contribute towards the development of a heritage that is not fossilized and prone to nostalgia, but alive and forward-looking. The European Commission confirms this approach by encouraging applicants to funds available for the European Year of Cultural Heritage to consider proposing projects, of both tangible and intangible natures, that perceive contemporary practice as the heritage of the future. 

In this light, it was encouraging to read the Comment by the Deputy OPM Chief of Staff of Government in this paper (18 August, 'It's festa time') paying due attention to the potential of this year to Malta with particular reference made to the value of the protection of the Maltese festa tradition. It would be even more exciting and meaningful to ask oneself what one is aiming to achieve by engaging in such an action beyond the protective element, and do so by addressing the question of what is one celebrating when promoting festi. A tradition that is maintained as is risks being fossilized, and next year could be used as an opportunity to debate the value of our traditional means of cultural expression and which way we wish them to go. Bigger and louder celebrations may gain in attractiveness in the short-term, but lead to the negative social spillovers, in terms of noise pollution and accessibility, as we experience from year to year. Social issues as raised by the Archbishop of Malta in relation to festi are also of concern, and should be part of a holistic approach towards addressing the relevance of celebrations to contemporary society. 

To conclude, the year ahead of us allows us to develop a more intimate cultural relationship with the rest of Europe, and seek ways to look for commonalities and expand communities, rather than engage in nationalistic exercises that seek to distinguish the citizens of and on Malta from others. It would be a pity were 2018 to celebrate communitarianism, in the distinguishing, divising way explained by François Jullien in Il n'y a pas d'identité culturelle (2016) rather than as a way of identifying our shared heritage with the rest of Europe and even the Mediterranean. A wide-angled, inclusive approach may allow for a more open attitude toward cultural dialogue and explore ways of rebuilding a common future.

 

Dr Karsten Xuereb is a researcher of cultural policy and relations. https://culturalpolicy.blog/  

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