Europe is Kaput. Long Live Europe!

Europe is Kaput. Long Live Europe!

Event: Europe is Kaput. Long Live Europe!

Venue: The Royal Festival Hall

Report by Craig Ballinger

The Royal Festival Hall is sleek and spacious with a slight sci-fi charm. Dead ahead sit Croatian philosopher Srećko Horvat, legendary Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and the former Greek Minster of Finance Yanis Varoufakis. The talk is meant to be about Europe and its various crises – mainly the financial and the philosophical, however the events of only a few days ago have changed the agenda. The trio are already deep into discussions of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

I’m quickly into the narrative of the evening, and one theme is the irrepressible Žižek taking more than his allotted time in the discussion. Varoufakis sits bemused as Žižek rants and wobbles. Dressed all in black Varoufakis has his look down to perfection – the philosopher’s turtleneck and the rock star’s leather jacket. Žižek, however hard to follow, is a fine figure and the first point I can truly tag onto is a digression from ISIS to Israel. He makes a point that by supporting Palestine we’re not being anti-Israel, nor holocaust deniers, we’re closer than anything to opposing the behaviour that led to the atrocities.

Breeding insecurity

The talk moves on to the issues of borders and refuges, with Varoufakis talking eloquently about walls and fences breeding insecurity where the promise is meant to be security. He points out that ‘Europe is failing to behave as an entity’, as each country makes its own political decisions on how to deal with refugees they’ve helped to create. This is where Europe as a concept, as a union, falls down and the biggest problem, as Varoufakis points out, is that we have ‘smart bombs and missiles but a particularly inane political elite’. Borders and individual battles of nationality do not help anything, they intensify problems as we fail to see that we’re one people. ‘It occurred to me…we have three representatives from the Balkans. I rest my case.’

The ideas and ideals of nationalism are debated and riffed on, Slavoj continues to take too much time, shuffling his notes, whilst Yanis sits back, legs crossed with a wry smile. He bursts into real life with a quick history of the formation of the EU, the Eurogroup and the single currency which is wonderful and enlightening, taking in all aspects of the union and it’s functions in a sparing, meaningful and understandable way. Our host Horvat describes Varoufakis as a kind of whistleblower, which doesn’t quite prepare me for the big surprise of the evening – a special appearance from one of the most famous of political prisoners, Julian Assange, live via weblink.

Looking rounder and hairier than he did before stepping into the Ecuadorian embassy Assange appears on the big screen behind the trio. Žižek comments that he looks more and more like ‘Christ crawling out of the cave,’ which is amusing but ultimately tragic as there’s no indication that Assange will ever have his freedom. Assange points to the recorded reaction of Hillary Clinton to the killing of Gadaffi with a gleeful ‘We came. We saw. He died,’ to illustrate the lack of any human decency of the world’s rulers.

Cathartic

The interaction between the four men is interesting, and I feel a certain satisfaction that I understand and agree with what they’re talking about – but then this is one of the functions of an evening like this, they’re meant to be a cathartic experience for the idle activist, those who tut-tut a lot of things but also secretly enjoy the Tories being in power because it’s good for the value of their house. Within the exchanges Varafoukis makes a fine statement about capitalism, pointing that it is ‘not wrong because it creates inequality…it is wrong because it is wasteful’. It’s competition rather than cooperation that is the big weight on the world, that creates pollution and slavery, hostility and war. I think about how Wikileaks is efficient, without the trappings of zealotry, without, almost, personality. It is the facts of war and governance for us to judge by their horror.

The evening passes with a light, convivial tone that disguises most of the sadness in the discussion. There’s minimal heckling from the crowd beyond a few shouts of ‘Let him speak!’ from Zizek superfans when the host tries to reign him in and one solitary shout of ‘Wanker!’ when Assange appears. However, during the Q&A when audience members put their questions to the men on stage, a woman asks a slightly dithering question, based around the need for a more loving approach, which provokes a deeply shitty audience reaction. People laugh and sneer and stream for the exits as the woman tries to make a very reasonable, if rambling, point.

In Britain, change is possible. More can be done. It’s the people at the bottom who need to wise up, to be better humans, to care more and pose less.

The whole thing is now online to view, and it’s worth it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjxAArOkoA0

By Craig Ballinger

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