No Expectations | Europe after Corona | May 7

Text: Rainer Moritz
Amidst discussions about how to overcome the current crisis, the question slowly coming into view focuses on what Europe will look like after the Coronavirus epidemic. What will be the future for European integration, the idea of community based on solidarity and the vision of a common culture?

ELit Literaturhaus Europa invites European writers to take a chance to present their ideas about the future, while still under the impression of the crisis.

No Expectations
By Rainer Moritz
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright

On 9 September 2001, I flew to New York – on behalf of my then employer, Hoffmann und Campe Verlag. Accompanied by editor Jens Petersen we set off on our annual autumnal tour of Manhattan. We scheduled almost a week of hourly appointments to the relevant agencies to hear about the books and manuscripts that might cause a stir on the German market.
Two days later, on 11 September 2011 at about 9am in the morning, I was standing in a jeans store not far from Central Park, as I still had some spare time after my first agency visit. In just a few minutes the world of Manhattan collapsed. I watched on a TV screen how the twin towers crumbled, how people died, how people on foot fled northwards. One and a half weeks later, we were eventually allowed to fly back, disturbed, relieved and with the certainty that all commentators broadcast with total conviction: after 9/11 the world would no longer be the same, everything would basically (have to) change.
I’ve often heard such trite comments since 2001, repeatedly after terrible terror attacks, financial market crises or natural disasters. Everything is put to the test, the (western) world could on no account carry on business as in all the preceding decades – so the constant gist of the message.
Now, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, I hear these sentences again, day after day. How about an example? In an interview with the Berlin Tagesspiegel (21.4.2020), the smart sociologist Heinz Bude, who again had his finger on the pulse and in 2019 published his book Solidarität. Zukunft einer großen Idee (“Solidarity: The Future of a Big Idea”): “We will not go back to a situation that will be like before the virus overtook us. We’re currently experiencing a turning point in world history. (...) There is a fundamental change of values, of perceptions of political organization and individual behavioural orientations.”
I certainly hear that message. Yet, I don’t believe that even this pandemic, which like no other crisis in history has so utterly changed daily life for everyone living in our countries, will have a lasting impact on our economic system and our behaviour. No, the grand speeches are one thing, and another thing is what the economy demands and what is put in place gradually by the politicians. Our society only functions if the economy is rebooted as quickly as possible – as ‘back-to-how-it-was-before’. Of course, for years there has been  a growing unease – marked, too, by the climate and environmental debates – about our lifestyle. But what has really changed or will change? Let’s discuss again in a year’s time.
By the way, then there is still “Europe”. When I was young, I believed in this idea, not passionately, but nonetheless with the confidence that at least part of Europe was not only connected by common economic interests but also by common ideals. Getting that message across, even if often this was only conveyed in empty formulas, is among the few things that impressed me about Chancellor Kohl.
And now? Europe has splintered into single interests; autocrats in many countries are only interested in their own backyard, and every week you can see the kind of marginal influence that an EU Commission president like Ursula von der Leyen has during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s no longer about Europe. No, I don’t have any expectations (anymore) of Europe. Damage limitation, that’s the measure of the vestige of my utopian ideas. That is paltry and sad, I know, but maybe it is realistic.

Rainer Moritz

Rainer Moritz, born 1958, German literary critic and writer. He is director of Literaturhaus Hamburg.

Rainer Moritz, geboren 1958, deutscher Literaturkritiker und Autor. Er ist Leiter des Literaturhauses Hamburg.

Rainer Moritz, born 1958, German literary critic and writer. He is director of Literaturhaus Hamburg.

Rainer Moritz, geboren 1958, deutscher Literaturkritiker und Autor. Er ist Leiter des Literaturhauses Hamburg.

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