The Enlargement of the European Union from the Perspective of the Coasts – The Other Side(s) of the Sea


I„In an era in which the idea and the identity of Europe are again keenly debated, we must tie in with all the concepts that enable us to rethink Europe anew – in order to bring Europe closer. ‘New’ in this sense, always means the dialectics of past and future, a creativity of contradictions and synergies.“
(Michael Fischer)

Following the third Rethinking Europe Symposium in Piran in 2014, this year’s meeting in Dubrovnik is the first to be dedicated to the founder of the series, Michael Fischer. The Piran symposium still bore his academic stamp, even though he could no longer be with us. 2014 was also the year that marked the beginning of the new EU strategy for the Adriatic-Ionian macro-region, to which the symposium made a valuable contribution – a contribution that included continuing and developing the discussions in a broader context. The volume on the symposium in Piran was published at the end of May.

Our aim with the 2015 symposium in Dubrovnik is to continue to study the Adriatic cultural area, with all its contradictions, in greater depth. From the very beginning, the purpose of the series of symposiums founded by Michael Fischer and Commissioner Johannes Hahn was to unlock a Europe of the intellect, of cultures and of opportunities. The meeting places were always centres where academics, authors and students from the most diverse disciplines felt a common bond. Shared exchanges, experiences and discussions inspired productive debates, which are recorded in detail in the symposium volumes, but which are still going on independently.

Rethinking Europe from its Coasts

Region, innovation and culturality were the central themes of the first Rethinking Europe Symposium, held in Trieste in 2012. In 2013, also in Trieste, the significance of the regions as agents of civilisation was discussed, and last year in Piran we examined the history of the mentality of the Adriatic. The fourth Rethinking Europe Symposium takes us further south. Following stop-overs in Trieste and Piran, Dubrovnik was chosen as the next venue. Dubrovnik is the southernmost city in Dalmatia and is bordered in the East by Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the South by Montenegro and in the West by the Adriatic Sea, making it the ideal starting point for finding out about the ‘other side of the sea’.

As a former republic that built its fortunes on free trade, Dubrovnik had excellent relations with the Ottoman Empire. Such was the reputation of Dubrovnik’s diplomats, who trod the fine line between the Christian and the Islamic world and moved between Catholic and Orthodox Christians – and whose city housed Europe’s second-oldest synagogue (after Prague) – that it even reached England, where Shakespeare mentioned Ragusa (Dubrovnik’s Latin name) in his plays. The tradition of treating different religions and confessions, political systems, languages and customs with respect, which was fundamental to the prosperity of the small republic ruled by doges, makes Dubrovnik the ideal venue for rethinking Europe.

From the perspective of the other side(s) of the sea, we consider on the one hand the metaphysics of the Maritime, while at the same time taking a big step towards the European Union’s external borders. For example, we need look no further than the Neum corridor, only a few kilometres from Dubrovnik, which divides mainland Croatia into two parts and is Bosnia-Herzegovina’s only direct access to the sea. Thus, the contradictions surrounding the discussions on the constant reinvention of the European Union make the sea into a metaphor for fear and for hope, for borders and for their removal, for dread of the unknown on the one hand, and boundless diversity on the other.

Did the sea have a beginning? And will it have an end? How does the salt get into the sea? Why is the sea not fuller, even though all water runs into it? And is the sea always beautiful? – The sea has always been a source of fascination, but also of fear because of its elemental power.
Does the sea perhaps awaken desires that are not only poetical, but also political? The region was shaken in the 1990s during the last war on the Adriatic coast when Dubrovnik too came under fire. How is reconciliation progressing today, and is tourism the only answer to the need for a cultural and political dialogue in this region? How deep are the wounds in the proud city that once challenged the Republic of Venice, and that remained independent until it fell to Napoleon? How do scientists and artists in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia relate to the legacy left by the Republic of Dubrovnik? Are there any lessons for the future in the example of the pragmatism and tolerance of this former republic?

During the Enlightenment the sea became a place of freedom, the Classical period conferred on it the aesthetics of the sublime, and in the Romantic era it was the transfiguration of the colour of longing, eternity and poetry. And even today it is a place of hope but also of fear for those who want to cross the sea to gain freedom. One thing is certain: no one is left unmoved by the sea.

Mankind in the Western tradition has since ancient times been preoccupied with the sea, humanity and questions of origin and existence. This is what we aim to build on, by exploring the sea and its depths; whether in a laboratory for art and literature or as the backdrop to the everyday life of the people who live around it. We want to understand it as a facilitator of the emergence of human cultures, study its history and biology and discover its depths in different ways.

The sea is vast, untamed, immeasurable. In his Philosophy of History, Hegel wrote ‘this boundless expanse is absolutely yielding, withstanding no pressure, not even a breath of wind’. The sea can be moulded but the effect is immediately lost. And Hegel never saw the sea.


Alida Bremer / Ilse Fischer / Margarethe Lasinger